TV: Flight of the Conchords (Seasons 1–2)

Had I had watched Flight of the Conchords in real time, it might have reminded me of the original British version of The Office: a low-key, low-budget sitcom about losers struggling to find happiness and success in their careers. Watching it well after the fact, it seems like an obvious ancestor of the brilliant Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a brisk comedy that occasionally breaks into absurd, hilarious song. Ultimately, it’s not much like either of those shows, but those are useful enough touchstones for the show’s unique and considerable appeal.

Flight of the Conchords is about two aspiring musicians from New Zealand—Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, as “themselves”—struggling to make ends meet and realize their rockstar dreams in New York City. The only problem: they’re not very good. Worse, they’re being managed by the enthusiastic but singularly inept Murray Hewitt (Rhys Darby, in outstanding form), a minor functionary in the New Zealand consulate. Their careers might not be going anywhere, but at least they have each other—except when they don’t. Sometimes they don’t get along. But they try. And usually, they fail.

There’s not much story in Flight of the Conchords, but it’s a charming, brilliantly deadpan series about regular joes doing their level best, which isn’t all that good. As Jemaine puts it in a particularly dark moment, “Our story is the story of two guys who start at the bottom, and with a lot of hard work continue along at the bottom, and finally end up at the bottom.” (Delivered brilliantly by Clement, that may well be one of the best lines of TV dialogue ever written.) Success may not be in the cards for the Conchords, but the fun is in the moments. Their quirky interactions with Murray, their lone, deranged fan Mel (Kristen Schaal), and a handful of other Big Apple acquaintances provide plenty of awkward laughter. And while the band is pretty hapless, the actual numbers—inspired music videos that erupt fancifully to comment on the sitcommy conundrum of the moment—are hilarious and memorable. It’s in the music where the two stars are at their best, while Rhys Darby (of recent Our Flag Means Death fame) gradually, stealthily takes over the show with his outrageously serious and earnest deliveries of ludicrous, uniquely Murrayish dialogue. This one won’t expand your intellectual horizons or anything, but it’s a one-of-a-kind comedy that effortlessly earns its cult status.

 

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