Flight of the Conchords, which is the name of both the band and their HBO television series, were one of the funniest things on the tube for two short seasons. Now every episode, along with their HBO concert, is available in one convenient package. You need to go out and get it right now. That’s right, it’s “Business Time.”
The real joke about Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement is that they used to bill their group, Flight of the Conchords, as “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo.” With their skills, it’s clear that the duo is definitely in the top three comedy duos on the street...depending on the street. Ok, that whole last sentence is only funny if you’re familiar with their work (and not really that funny even if you are), but like so many things related to the band and their eponymous television show, you just can’t help cracking yourself up with their comments, lyrics, and actions. Just remember, you’re so beautiful, like a tree, or a high-class prostitute.
The two seasons run a total of 22 episodes and deal with the attempts of Bret and Jermaine, playing fictionalized (we hope) versions of themselves and their band, to find musical success and love, or at least sex, after moving from New Zealand to New York. The two have varying degrees of success in the sex department but almost none at getting their band any recognition, fans, or even paying gigs. This is partially due to the performance of their active but incompetent manager, Murray (Rhys Darby.) Murray, who also works in the New Zealand embassy, which is located in a non-descript building right next to the All Asian Massage, is often more interested in holding meetings with the band and taking attendance to make sure that all three of them are, indeed, “present.” Unfortunately, since he primarily gets them shows in elevators, motor homes, and Central Park (no, not that one), they aren’t able to expand what Murray optimistically calls their “fan base.”
The “fan base” consists of Mel (Kristen Schaal), an obsessive married woman, who stalks them, dreams about them, and leans toward them wantingly with her tongue pressed against her teeth in her partially open mouth. She’s hysterical and, apart from the guy’s performances of their songs, easily the best thing on the show. Mel is more outraged, disappointed, and excited about the band’s career than the boys themselves, are and their clear desire to be out of her presence despite her devotion is wonderful to behold. The duo also have one friend, Dave (Arj Barker), a pawn shop owner who is their expert on women and America, explaining why they know very little about either.
This is a band, though, and the highlights are the two or three songs they perform in each episode. “Sugar Lumps,” “Carol Brown,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room,” “If You Wanted To” (my favorite comedy song of all time), and many, many others are brought to glorious life. Typically commenting and interacting with whatever is going on in the (generally lightly plotted) story, the songs are funny and presented in clever and at times surreal ways. The duo has a real gift for running the gamut of musical styles and videos but maintaining their low-key approach to any type of song.
There is not much difference between Season 1 and Season 2, although the songs are a bit stronger in Season 1. It’s not surprising, since those songs used were written over the course of years as the duo performed in comedy clubs, while Season 2 had a much shorter writing life. Also, while the standard plots generally focus on internal band dynamics, friendship, love/sex, the New Zealand inferiority complex, and popularity, the stories in Season 1 are a little better. Season 2 has a story arc about the visiting New Zealand Prime Minister that I found somewhat unengaging, but those are minor quibbles. Taken as one long, full season, it blows most sitcoms out of the water. The low-key musical style carries over into Clement and McKenzie’s acting, which involves deadpan comments that reveal their colossal obtuseness and stupidity while maintaining their incredible likeability.
Let’s just get down to brass tacks. You shouldn’t not be watching this show if you’ve ever spent five minutes in front of the vastly inferior shows like Two and a Half Men, According to Jim, or anything of that nature. The song with Jermaine and Brent singing about meeting the girl with the epileptic dog is genius in itself, and almost every episode is hilarious. Get this now.
I’d like to say that Flight of the Conchords: The Complete Collection is a treasure trove of FoTC material, but it’s not, and I’m nothing if not truthful. Ok, I’m not that truthful, but this is good, but no treasure trove. The two full seasons (which, again, only covers 12 episodes in Season 1 and 10 episodes in Season 2) are presented on four discs, with all of the extras on the second disc of Season 2. There is a separate disc with their 30-minute HBO concert special, which is why this is billed as “The Complete Collection” and not “The Complete Series.” At least, I think that’s why.
The HBO concert special was actually filmed in 2005, a couple of years before the duo got their TV show. They are great, and their between-song patter is often amazing in their rhythm and give-and-take. Listen to the lead-in to “Think About It” when Bret talks about his children and his children’s children. It’s just a perfect bit of comedy. Even though the songs often have more-polished versions in various episodes of the show, it’s a treat to watch them work their live show. Also, you get the story song “Jenny,” about a guy pretending to remember a woman he can’t recall.
The series extras include some outtakes and deleted scenes. I appreciated the deleted scenes, as they went on for 25 minutes and consisted of fully-realized scenes rather than just random snippets. It looks like they were cut primarily for length, as they contain the same sort of humor and performances as those that ended up in the show. It would be nice if they provided some context for the scenes, which seem to jump around in the chronology in the show without any rhyme or reason.
After the deleted scenes and outtakes, the most substantial extra is a featurette on the creation of the television series, aptly dubbed “Flight of the Conchords: On Air.” It’s 25 minutes long and shows the band doing radio interviews and concerts to publicize the debut of the series. Also included are interviews with the guys, some of the other actors, and the co-creator, James Bobin. It’s actually pretty straightforward and in-depth on how they got the show and how merged the songs with the plots of the show. One of the more interesting documentaries about the behind-the-scenes stuff I’ve seen in awhile.
The other extras are fun filler. They include ads for Dave’s pawn shop (complete with lousy rapping and bikini-clad dancers) and meetings between Murray and Greg at the New Zealand consulate. It looks like they served as ads for the series when it ran on HBO, so they run about a minute each and all of them together are only about six minutes.
It’s really the episodes themselves that are the key here, and the extras provide a nice supplement. This is a great show and worthy of the Emmy nomination it received for Best Comedy Series.