One of the most refreshingly original and offbeat television series to hit American airwaves in the twenty-first century, the delightfully whimsical, earnest and creative Flight of the Conchords offered viewers a long-desired escape from the endless sea of series obsessed with dysfunctional families, cops and robbers, lawyers and doctors.
That it only lasted two seasons is a pity indeed but all twenty-two deliciously unique installments plus the first HBO special One Night Stand by Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie's New Zealand folk parody band are now packaged together in this recently released collectible box set.
While aspiring actors and filmmakers may journey to Hollywood to try to break into the movie business, stand-up comedians and musician hopefuls make the trek to New York City hoping to create that ever illusive buzz to fast track their career.
And even though it’s a hard knock life for all involved, it’s even tougher to crack into the big leagues when you’re struggling to combat a culture clash as we discover for former New Zealand shepherds Jemaine and Bret who attempt an American crossover for both their band and themselves, transitioning into the city that never sleeps as not exactly legal residents of the U.S.
Created by the musicians along with James Bobin who serves as a co-writer and frequent director of the roughly twenty-two minute episodes, real Conchords members Clement and McKenzie play fictionalized versions of themselves a la the HBO tradition of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Throughout the series, they meet with their new inept U.S. manager who is embodied by the show’s frequently hilarious scene-stealer Rhys Darby (imagine Ricky Gervais as a Kiwi).
Yet aside from routinely scheduling band meetings during office hours where he works as the Deputy Cultural Attache at New York’s minuscule New Zealand consulate, ultimately their manager does little more than take roll call with zero gigs to pitch during each and every get together.
Still despite this, Bret and Jemaine continually try to make their mark. Hoping to acquire more than just their one insanely loyal married stalker fan Mel (Kristen Schaal) in addition to girlfriends who aren’t just using them for Jemaine’s Art Garfunkel wig or lying about going overseas to fight a war so that they can have their way with them, the rather innocent and clueless duo brave muggers and bullying Australians throughout two freshly funny seasons.
Breaking free of the traditional narrative structure with at least two musical numbers per episode that either bring us up to speed on off-camera events or serve as an internal monologue for the characters, Conchords manages to enhance the laugh-out-loud lyrics of the songs with fantastical visual elements including animation and outrageous costuming with some spectacular sequences you’ll want to rewind repeatedly to explore in greater detail.
And given the fact that the songs are parody joke-filled works that feel like they’re perhaps the offspring of a spontaneous hook-up between The Smothers Brothers and Adam Sandler, it’s quite a feat that Clement and McKenzie are able to avoid any chance that they’ll become gimmicky novelties.
Whether it’s epitomized in one standout episode helmed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind and The Science of Sleep director Michel Gondry in a predictably inspired creative marriage or in the Emmy nominated send-up of rap wars and West Side Story in another, the numbers rarely detract and repeatedly delight by ensuring that they blend seamlessly into the storylines.
And regardless of the constant onscreen struggles of the guys to pay their bills or land a gig where someone other than Mel shows up, by the time the second season rolled around, Flight of the Conchords as well as the band offscreen had achieved rock star status as contemporary pop culture icons.
More people jumping on the bandwagon ensured that the guest stars would start rolling in as Kristin Wiig, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Sarah Wynter, Patton Oswalt among others joined the Conchords for its critically most successful second half.
Yet when viewing the shows back-to-back in a weekend marathon courtesy of this set, I noticed that aside from some truly memorable moments, overall it’s the first season that feels the most consistently inspired, free-wheeling and imaginative, given the naiveté of the characters and the excitement those involved were obviously enjoying with the television format.
Unfailingly likable and endlessly charming, Flight of the Conchords is precisely the type of outside-the-box programming for which more networks should try to strive.
Furthermore, now that it’s available on disc, it’s safe to say that much like Arrested Development, HBO’s short-lived, free-spirited Conchords will continue to be a show that’s passed along to friends and relatives for quite some time, hopefully inspiring new voices along the way.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
Labels: TV on DVD