Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement could be just another pair of small-time musicians trying to survive in New York City. They’re normal guys with normal lives — except they’re from New Zealand, and they sometimes break into song and dance. Like many other struggling artists, between gigs they must scrounge for money, food, entertainment and relationships.
Really, there is not much more to the premise of Flight of the Conchords, the television show starring the folk-parody musical duo of the same name. They have been likened to other musical comedy acts such as Tenacious D, but their approach to daily life is wholly unique. Their new HBO series has given them the opportunity to appear for an American audience as more mainstream entertainers. Up until this summer, they’ve done mostly live shows.
Their pilot episode, “Sally,” follows the pair through a few of their more regular days. Bespectacled, mutton-chopped Jemaine meets Sally at a party, a girl he deems (in song) pretty enough to be a “part-time model.” However, it is soon revealed that Sally was also once the girlfriend of doe-eyed, bearded Bret. Tension mounts between the pair as their clueless band manager, Murray, takes them to film a music video — on his mobile phone camera. Three absurd musical numbers are sprinkled throughout the episode, and despite their randomness, the material always fits. The lyrics are clever, unpredictable and often hilarious.
The duo’s comedy works mostly because of its deadpan, honest delivery. The timing is subtle and perfect, especially the banter between Bret and Jemaine. The characters play their songs and stories against a backdrop of New York’s grungier, less glamorous side. Most endearing is the men’s ignorance. They’re unfazed by their failures, and the show invites viewers to delight in the duo’s shortcomings.
Of course, their particular brand of humor may not be for everyone. At one moment wacky and the next mundane, the Conchords take a jab at anything in their way. The bottom line is, however, that these two are talented and sincere, and their adventures offer a much-needed reprieve from the ordinary.