There is something about HBO and its ability to deliver compelling, funny, serious, and dramatic television that simply outpaces all others. The channel that has already given us years of The Sopranos and left us wanting for more, a bald Jewish guy who proves that going round in life rubbing everyone the wrong way actually pays, and an entourage of boys whose whole life is the pursuit of pleasure and indolence has dealt us something more.
The Flight of the Conchords holds to the same high HBO standard but it is completely different. It is the story two New Zealander (Kiwi) friends, Bret (Bret McKenzie) and Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) and their experiences with life, love, friendship, and all the usual stuff while trying to make their lives as New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo. Each week the boys experience a particular adventure, which they punctuate with songs. Each song has original lyrics and is rendered in a particular genre suitable for the predicament. You just have to see it to fully understand.
Their fate is sealed by the equally innocent and awkward Murray (played by comedian Rhys Darby) who, while being New Zealand’s trade representative in the Big Apple, is also their erstwhile band manager. So challenged is Murray at that task he can only schedule them at the local aquarium. Murray is in a large part responsible for the boys' quixotic adventures, and the Conchords continually dig themselves deeper when troublesome situations turn up.
A lot of words have been written on the comedic talent of Bret and Jemaine. I won't add any more, other than what really stands out is their timing, saying just the wrong things at just the right time. Although plenty of kudos go to the writers, the two key supporting actors, Rhys and New York comedian Kristen Schaal (Mel), are perfect foils for our dynamic duo. Mel plays the psychotic (only) fan of the band who knows no boundaries with her obsession. Her overt sexual innuendos towards the band members is a delight to behold, rendering fantasies that usually end with Bret and Jemaine having to make up excuses and head for the door.
There are plenty of inside jokes in the series. Although people will pick up on the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, there are numerous references to New Zealand’s tall poppy syndrome as well as the disdain for New Zealand Telecom and New Zealand Television, and the incessant play on the Kiwi accent. In one particular episode, “Racism,” the boys become entangled with a racist Asian fruit vendor who mistakes them for Australians. There are a lot of inside references for Kiwis (and Aussies) to chew on, but plenty other things for our northern cousins to digest and still enjoy.
There is something very compelling about the two Kiwi boys from New Zealand. At first glance it is a fish out of water story — two budding musicians whose riffs on music genres to create their own view of life’s struggle is intensely engaging. But it is even more than that. Jemaine and Bret have a certain innocence about them. Their attempt to see the best in everyone (except Australians) is not uniquely Kiwi, but it is a compelling part of the culture. They are the hobbits against the reign of the Dark Lords of the New York streets. It is this quality, that they see the best in everyone despite what New York throws at them, that makes the boys so lovable. It is the blind optimism and wholeness of character that makes us wish perhaps there was a little bit of Bret and Jemaine in all of us. We can only hope.
Season two of The Flight of the Conchords is on HBO, Sundays at 10pm.