Flight of the Conchords – Season One DVD
This is the age of the “couple of guys who share an apartment and who could break into song at any moment” comedy. This bizarre subgenre has a surprisingly clean track record: “The Mighty Boosh,” “Clark and Michael,” “Tenacious D,” and my favorite, “Stella,” have all put sharp comedies together out of not much of anything. The joy of low-concept is that it opens the door for goofing, riffing, and meandering. The fewer plot and character constraints these shows have, the more it frees them up to do their thang.
“The Flight of the Conchords” is about two New Zealanders, Bret and Jemaine, in an unsuccessful band trying to make it in New York City, played by two New Zealanders, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, in a successful band who have already made it internationally.
But this isn’t like the way Christopher Guest makes fun of unsuccessful artists and their big, silly dreams. Jemaine and Bret (the characters) are only mildly disappointed with their lack of success. They’re more preoccupied with suddenly bursting into songs than getting people to hear them.
And holy hell, some of these songs are funny. I’d heard the weekly marital sex jam, “Business Time,” and kinda-hot girl ode, “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room,” on the web before I’d seen the show, and they’re still hilarious on repeat viewings. Often scenes are written around Conchords songs: “Business Time” is a fantasy sequence prompted by love interest Sally’s desire to settle down. Other times, there is no transition at all.
The show works better, though, when a song is integral to the plot. When Bret becomes self conscious about his body, Jemaine tries to cheer him up with a song (“Bret, You Got It Going On”) that starts with veiled insults (“Sure, you’re weedy and kind of shy / But some girlie out there must be needy for a weedy, shy guy”) then strays from his prepared lyrics to sing:
Well, sometimes it gets lonely, and I need a woman.
And then I imagine you with some bosoms.
In fact, one time when we were touring and I was really lonely.
And we were sharing that twin room in the hotel.
I put a wig on you, when you were sleeping, I put a wig on you.
Oh, ohhh, oooooh, oh, and I just laid there and spooned you.
Many of the shows greatest nonmusical moments come from Kristen Schaal, who brings energy and wit as Mel, the guys’ only fan. Her clumsy come-ons delivered in front of her eerily untroubled husband are among the shows funniest scenes. Late in the season, Mel walks in on Bret in the bathroom to see if he needs anything, then lingers, ogling him. On paper, the scene isn’t much of anything, but her “consumed with lust” face is a brand new expression that Schaal ought to trademark before someone beats her to it.
Their rapport with each other and their manager, Murray (Rhys Darby), is excellent as well. Their meetings with Murray momentarily anchor the show in Ricky Gervais-style deadpan before the absurd creeps back in.
There’s a marked difference between the low-stakes plots of the first disc and the more traditional plots of the second. The first six episodes show a marked interest in finding the humor in repetition. Most of the plots involve a love triangle and Bret quitting the band. This aimlessness was sustainable for those few episodes, all of which were written by Clement and McKenzie, but the later episodes, written by others, widen the show’s scope for the better. Murray becomes the emotional core. As he gets down on himself for his poor managing, Jemaine and Bret take it upon themselves to cheer him up.
One particularly successful second disc episode is “Girlfriends,” a gender role-reversal satire in which Brett is pressured into sex with a pastry chef who tells him she is about to be shipped off to Iraq. Brett expresses his reluctance in the chastity anthem “A Kiss is Not a Contract.” She blows him off after she gets what she wants and, in the end, Brett is approached by a friends of hers who says, “I hear you like to have a good time.” It’s a simple idea, deftly executed—the Conchords’ specialty.