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Debuting tomorrow night at 9:30 on HBO, ‘Flight of the Conchords’ probably has no right inhabiting part of ‘The Sopranos’ former time slot. That’s not an insult—the digitally-shot story of a parody folk band from New Zealand making it big in New York City is irreverent, ridiculous, and largely hilarious. But if you’re coming back for a replacement for deep thoughts on family and the role of crime in our lives, you’re going to find two dudes in robot costumes instead.
‘Flight of the Conchords’ is the name of the band here, made up of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, sort of New Zealand hipster-rock’s answer to Tenacious D (whatever that means). They’ve performed in New Zealand and the United Kingdom since 2002, but would mostly be noticed here for Jemaine’s appearance in a series of Outback Steakhouse ads. (Jemaine also appears in the recently-released Eagle vs. Shark, which features a lot of the same quirky humor and Jemaine wielding nunchucks against a handicapped man. You have been warned).
The first episode of ‘Conchords’ is currently available online, a stroke of genius on the part of HBO executives who realize that the target audience for the show can’t afford premium channels. Bret and Jemaine are trying to expand their American fanbase and record music videos, albeit with an incompetent manager (Rhys Darby) who books them a gig at the aquarium—“Turns out they were looking for sand”—and tries to record their video with a cell-phone camera. Jemaine has also started dating Bret’s ex-girlfriend, which everyone only realizes when Bret turns on his bedroom light in the middle of Jemane’s makeout session, revealing that he has been watching them the whole time.
It’s a lot funnier when you actually see it, thanks to the perfect deadpan skills of McKenzie and Clement and the show’s overall restrained quirkiness. Watching clueless people do bad things to one another is a staple of modern comedy—‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ is really just a few lunatic steps from Anchorman—and McKenzie and Clement employ their alter-egos with just enough silliness and pathos to balance out the self-absorption. In one of the two instances in which the characters break out into song in the middle of a scene, Jemaine sings to a girl “You’re so beautiful you could be a part- time model… but you’d probably still have to keep another job.” The other song features Jemaine and Bret both denying that they’re crying, with excuses like “I’m just cutting onions… I’m making onion salad” and “I’m thinking about a friend of mine who is dying, that’s right, dying.”
Overall, ‘Flight of the Conchords’ is the kind of silly-but-ironic humor that thrives in 10-minute internet shorts but rarely sees the light of broadcast day. If you’ve liked MTV’s ‘Human Giant’ but wish it were a little less controversial, ‘Conchords’ is perfect for you. Or if you simply appreciate a set of poorly-made robot costumes—and really, who doesn’t?—then give Jemaine and Bret a try. After all, as the self-described “New Zealand’s fourth-most popular digi-folk parody group,” they could probably use the support.