I experienced the first season of Flight of the Conchords for the first time last week. I’ve only watched half of the episodes so far, but I’ve seen enough to know that I love this show! I had been hearing tidbits about it and its starring duo for awhile, but my knowledge was limited to vague phrases like “two guys who sing” and “funny songs.” I didn’t even really know it was a 30 minute comedy show. Now that I’ve experienced it, and “experienced” is the right word here, I can say that it is unlike any tv comedy I’ve ever seen.
Background: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement formed their comedy duo in 1998, and they have developed a cult following of their live shows over the past several years. They have also picked up various awards for their work, which is extremely hilarious and smartly written. In 2007 the first season of Flight of the Conchords premiered on HBO, and it features songs that they released prior to the show. The second season is scheduled to begin this month on HBO.
Synopsis: The HBO show revolves around Bret and Jemaine, who play exaggerated, fictionalized versions of themselves. They are two New Zealanders trying to find success as a band in the U.S. Unfortunately, they have only managed to make one fan, the super obsessed Mel. Their manager, Murray, is more concerned with taking roll call at their three-man meetings than in launching their musical careers. Bret and Jemaine are clueless about everything from love to American culture, and their only American friend who can give them direction is pawn shop owner Dave. Thus, from this meager premise, hilarity ensues.
Assessment: When I started watching the first episode, I wasn’t instantly hooked. From what I could gather, this was a show about two inept guys, and the tone of the show was absurdist. Well, both of those observations are true, but the show’s comic gold lies in its songs, the lyrics, the choreography, the visual effects, and the way that they are woven together into one great crazy tapestry of ridiculousness. My husband and I have laughed a lot, shaken our heads, and said things like “that’s so weird” and “that’s really random” while watching the first six episodes.
One thing we had trouble figuring out is what’s supposed to be going on when Bret and Jemaine break into song. I found this clear explanation on Wikipedia:
“Jemaine or Bret break into song periodically throughout each episode. The songs are built into the narrative structure of the show in several different ways. Some songs form part of the actual plot of the show. In these instances, Bret or Jemaine sings to another character. Other songs serve as the internal monologue of one of the two. Typically, at least once per show, a song is shot in the form of a music video. Some songs use a combination of the styles. For example, in the first episode, “Sally”, the song “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” is a mix of Jemaine’s inner thoughts, which are inaudible to those around him, and his spoken invitations to Sally to get a kebab and to go back to his place, while the music video for “Business Time” (from “Sally Returns”) depicts a daydream that Jemaine is having.
The enthusiastic manner in which the characters express themselves through song is in stark contrast to the very low-key, monotone manner in which the characters express themselves throughout the rest of the show. Thus, when the characters cannot verbalize their feelings, the songs serve as inner monologues and explain the thoughts and feelings they are unable to communicate to others.”
Highlights: Read on for some of my favorite moments, music videos, lines, and lyrics from the first six episodes.
- “Beautiful Girl” – This was my first experience of a song on Flight of the Conchords. Jemaine sings about Sally, and how she’s the most beautiful girl… in the room. (“You could be a part-time model, but you’d probably still have to keep your normal job.”)
- The music video for “The Humans Are Dead” – Murray decides that Bret and Jemaine need to film a music video to get more exposure. Unfortunately, due to their limited budget, he films it with a camera phone, and the guys’ robot costumes consist of spray-painted boxes. The song itself is very funny, but the way the scene is set up and filmed makes it even more memorable. Bret’s binary solo is classic.
- “I’m not crying. It’s just been raining on my face.” – This was the best excuse Jemaine gave in his song full of explanations for why his face was wet. (“I’ve just been cutting onions,” “my eyes are a little sweaty today,” etc.)
- “Inner City Pressure” music video – This video and song are a spoof of the Pet Shop Boys’ first hit song, “West End Girls.” Bret and Jemaine perfectly capture the spirit of 1980s music videos, from the pacing about, to the slow motion camera work, to the synthesizer playing.
- “I think I need a 1983 Casio DG-20 electric guitar, set to electric mandolin” – This may be the most random moment so far on the show. Bret is standing and chatting with fellow sign holder (that’s his job) Coco, and he is inspired to sing when he realized that he’s attracted to her. As he voices his need for a Casio guitar, an old man walks by and hands him one.
- The Dancing Chorus of Sign Holders – In the song that begins with the Casio guitar moment mentioned above, there is a group of sign holders who act as background dancers for Bret. The song is “She’s So Hot – Boom!”, and it’s a reggae/rap number. Typically, background dancers are attractive, scantily clad women. In this case, they are a mix of male and female, small and large, and dressed in regular clothes. Maybe you have to see it to appreciate it.
- “This is where we break it down” – At the end of the song “Think About It,” which talks about people getting stuck in the leg with knives and forks, and getting diseases from monkeys, among other things, Bret and Jemaine “break it down.” Normally there are lyrics to accompany this cascading part of a song, but in this case, they just do lots of “oohing” and “aahing” and repeating that they are breaking it down. It’s a fun poke at songs that over-milk the break down. You can view the entire video of “Think About It” here.
- “Business Time” – Everything about this song and music video are funny. Jemaine runs into Sally at a laundromat and commences to daydream about what his life would be like if they got married. “When I’m down to my socks it’s time for business. That’s why they’re called business socks.” See the funny here.
- Mel insulting Jemaine to compliment Bret – In the episode “Bowie,” Bret develops some body image issues, so Jemaine asks their one fan, Mel, to give Bret some extra compliments. When she “just so happens” to run into them on the street, she takes things overboard, to the point of giving Jemaine his own set of body image issues.
I’ll leave you with the song “The Most Beautiful Girl,” which as I mentioned before, was my introduction to the essence of Flight of the Conchords.