The agonizing wait is over for fans of the Emmy-nominated Flight of the Conchords. After what seems like the longest hiatus in the history of series television (due primarily to the 2007-2008 writers’ strike, but later to delays in developing new material) HBO will air the second season premiere of the ground-breaking comedy series on January 18th at 10 p.m. (ET/PT).
(For the totally Conchord-starved, "rock the party" at Joost to watch the entire first episode in high-quality streaming video and commercial-free.)
If you haven’t seen the show – or need a quick refresher on who’s who – you will not be disappointed. For those looking for more, the laughs are there, the music is good, but this sophomore opener gives the show plenty of room for improvement and may just be what it needed to take it back to its original quirky charm. Or, it might be the other kind of sophomore offering. The not as good kind.
Anyone plugged into the show's fan groups on Facebook, MySpace (or any of thousands of fan-driven blogs and Conchord-oriented sites) knows that tension has been festering over the extended delay, similar to one what might break out among passengers on a jet bound for Jamaica but held on the tarmac at JFK. For me, the return of the Lower East Side-dwelling Kiwi folk-singing duo to my television was an event filled with promise. It is then disappointing that I think the show was prematurely cleared for take-off on its second sortie.
After the familiar opening credit sequence cuts to the action, the story is picked up from where it was left at the end of season one. Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) and Bret (Bret McKenzie) are frustrated that their band manager Murray (Rhys Darby) has shifted focus from the Conchords to promoting Crazy Dogggz, the hit-making group formed by Bret and Jemaine’s castaway members, as played by comedians Todd Barry and Demetri Martin.
Darby gives a stellar performance as a manager being given the boot by Bret and Jemaine due to his epic mismanagement. But McKenzie and Clement seem to still be relocating their characters; some of the freshness and authenticity didn’t make it out of mothballs yet. It was when the first musical number commenced that I began worrying about the ill effects a long vacation might have had on the show.
Murray belts out a soliloquy on the subject of rejection, arranged and performed á la Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the scene is shot majestically giving us amazing 360 degree views of Manhattan. But the high production values did not obscure lyrical jokes that were soft and uninspired. Although the second song – this one featuring Bret and Jemaine – hit a little higher on the laugh meter, there was nothing even approaching the catchy comedic genius of a “Foux du Fafa,” “Ladies of the World,” or “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room).” For the success of a show whose primary draw is the musical element, I found myself offering a little prayer that this was not evidence that the muse had vanished.
In terms of the storyline, what developed seemed to be a focused attempt to recapture the lightning that was evident in the show’s first season, an effort that missed the mark more often than not. I wished that I had not gorged myself on the season one DVDs to the point that I was asked by my fiancée to “refrain for no less than one year.” Ironically, it is the availability of Conchords on DVD that could have allowed the producers to feel free to have the characters do things in the story instead of parading them in front of us for a re-introduction. It was good to see that Conchord-stalking Mel (Kristen Schaal), as well as indifferent friend-of-the-band Dave (Arj Barker), are back, but they seemed more like cameo performers than the integral characters on which the previous season relied. At times it felt as though I was watching a Flight of the Conchords reunion special, such was the stiffness of the story and dialogue.
Whether the Conchords needed more downtime or less downtime is probably known only to the creative team behind the show. Perhaps, too, my expectations were made higher by the length of separation, but I do not think I will stand out from other viewers in that regard.
Despite the shaky departure, I still have a strong feeling that the team behind Conchords will level off and get back to delivering the kind of material that hooked millions on first view. A quick scan of future episodes offers a lot of territory for the New Zealand duo to get back in the groove best suited to them.
With the immense talent shared by the show’s brains – McKenzie, Clement, and Bobin – it is a safe bet that continued viewing will be rewarded with more original comedy of the sort that made the show a viral hit. I sincerely hope so. I look forward to seeing the show achieve its former shine and reach its full potential. Then I can write a review of the Flight of the Conchords season two DVD set proclaiming it both side-splitting and Emmy-winning.