Home Box Office is currently airing another underappreciated gem on its Sunday night schedule. The network that has provided series after series of superb comedies and dramas, along with great mini-series and self-produced feature films, is currently offering a second season of one of the wittiest, cleverest and most entertaining off-beat comedies ever to air on broadcast or cable television.
“Flight of the Conchords” is both the name of the show and of the band that the show concerns. It’s a two-man band, and the duo performs its own music on the show in what can only be described as the most uniquely presented kind of music video since MTV first emerged as a cable novelty many years ago.
But the music, as surprisingly good as it is, is only one of the reasons to watch this great show. The characters and their story are the other reason. The two musicians, Bret and Jemaine, are from New Zealand. They currently reside in New York City, where, even though they are from an English speaking country, they are treated by most of the locals as if they are from another planet.
And, because this show is nothing if not an over-the-top comedy, the two act, in many instances, as if they are, claiming in various episodes to be completely ignorant of dating protocols, of cultural events, of social customs, and of just about anything else that they might be required to confront from week to week.
They are “aided” in their endeavors by another hilarious character, Murray, who in addition to being an absolute do-nothing cultural attaché for the New Zealand consulate in the city, is also the band’s completely unqualified manager. Watching Murray pretend to know what he’s doing, and watching Bret and Jemaine actually half believe that he does know what he’s doing, is a running gag on the show, and each plot line provides all three with opportunities to discover anew the inanity in their respective relationships.
The guys have no fan base, but they do have a groupie. Mel is madly in love with both of them (they can barely tolerate her), and her husband seems completely okay with that fact, as he proves every week when he is humiliated by her obsession with the guys (often even aiding her in her attempts to get their attention).
The guys have a street friend named Dave who has no idea where or what New Zealand is and assumes the ignorance the guys continually display is due to the fact that they are from someplace where civilization hasn’t yet been discovered. Dave, like all the characters, is laughably dense.
What makes it all work is the creativity in the zaniness. The show might be a modern version of the wildest elements of the Marx Brothers with a sprinkling of Monty Python thrown in. In one recent episode, for example, Murray learns that the New Zealand Prime Minister is due to arrive in the city, expecting to have a meeting arranged with the new American president.
Of course, Murray has no idea how to arrange such a meeting, and when his calls to the White House get him nowhere, he takes the PM on a White House tour, during which he tries to explain to the tour guide that he needs to see the president, while the PM and Bret (suddenly recruited by Murray to be the PM’s security detail) look on curiously. The episode ends, after the three are dispatched from the White House, with Murray arranging for an Obama look-alike to attend a New Zealand-hosted barbeque, and, of course, the PM, as ignorant as everyone else in the show, accepts the stand-in for the real McCoy, er, Obama.
Throughout the episode Brit and Jemaine find ways to sing their songs, and it all works because the whole set-up of the show is premised on the idea that none of it is supposed to be realistic. It’s just supposed to be uproariously funny, clever and, above all, entertaining, and it is.
The show is the brainchild of its stars, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, and James Bobin, all three listed as its co-creators. The music is all written by Jemaine and Bret, who are two very talented guys, to say the least.
The show is approaching the end of its second “season,” (the typical HBO 12-episode run), and this year has been even better than its first, with more of the cast joining in the songs and more regular characters being fully developed.
Bound to become a cult classic, and hopefully continuing with at least a third season, after the necessary hiatus, “Conchords” is as good a show as TV currently has to offer, and, indeed, may be as good as show as the medium has ever offered. Look for DVDs of the first season, and expect HBO to repeat the second season into the summer.
As they say, it isn’t TV; it’s HBO.