Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Time of the Season: S1 of Flight of the Conchords (’07)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 13, 2007

Who likes to rock the party?

My initial resistance to Flight of the Conchords can be blamed almost entirely on Tenacious D. I probably should’ve liked those guys–I like Jack Black, I like faux-metal, I like jokes, y’know, some of the time–but I dunno, the limited bits of their stuff I heard just felt like a big joke that I was never in on. It didn’t help that so many other people knew their catalogue by heart, and would recite it perfectly in tandem while I stared at them dumbly. But yeah, I think it put me off the idea of musical comedy for a long time.

Thank God that Flight of the Conchords is nothing like that. Or maybe it is–who knows if the songs would be any good out of the show’s context, it’s entirely I’d find them just as alienating. But the show–which documents the travails of the semi-fictional New Zealand musical duo of the same name, played by Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie–is far more than that, and while I can’t imagine the show without the musical numbers, it’s a great TV show as well as a great musical showcase.

Oddly, the closest thing I can think of to an antecedent for FotC is the Bjork-starring Palme D’Or winner from the turn of the millennium, Dancer in the Dark. Odd to think of Lars Von Trier as an influence on any sort of musical comedy, but FotC shares the movie’s jarring mixture of humdrum, uncinematic and often fairly depressing real-life sequences mixed with spontaneous, explosive and impressively large-scale musical numbers. The main difference, of course, is that Von Trier used the juxtaposition for tragedy, and McKenzie and Clement do it for comedy.

And it’s real, real funny all right. The non-musical parts of the show mix the deadpan humor and lo-fi visuals of The Office with the occasional ridiculousness of the best Adult Swim characters and the sort of “shit happens” vibe of Curb Your Enthusiasm. McKenzie and Clement have the task of essentially playing the straight men to the craziness of the world around them–their unstable, overenthusiastic and underqualified manager Murray (Rhys Darby, in a perpetually scene-stealing role), their obsessed #1/only fan Mel (Kristen Schaal), and their supremely unhelpful American friend Dave (Arj Barker) the most frequently recurring crazies–and they do it with the comedic timing of pros, surely a carry-over from their pre-TV days as a touring live duo.

And those musical numbers–you’re just not gonna see anything else like them on TV, likely ever. Whether eschewing sensitive singer/songwriting (“If You’re Into It”), Pet Shop Boys-style urban balladry (“Inner City Pressure”), dance hall (“She’s So Hot, BOOM!”) or seduction funk (“It’s Business Time,” which has become something of a hit on its own), FotC gets it right on, with hilarious and surprisingly catchy results. The songs are never too broad, either, so they tend to slide right in with the show’s otherwise extremely straight-faced humor, and the visuals–whether a psychedelic skip through the park during the acid trip of “Prince of Parties,” or the children’s animation-style clip for “Albi the Racist Dragon”–tend to be just as clever.

What’s more, the show had the balls to end the season on a hell of a downer, albeit a predictably hysterical one–presumably because, having run out of songs from their live repertoire, the show’s future is extremely uncertain. But here’s hoping the band can get back together for at least one more season–it’s hard to picture another show getting musical comedy down this perfectly again.

2 Responses to “Time of the Season: S1 of Flight of the Conchords (’07)”

  1. Jason L said

    although the musical numbers are pretty clever, the non-musical portion of the show is damn funny, and i think that the Conchords, especially jermaine, have terrific comic timing. i really hope that they do another season, now that “entourage” is in a creative nosedive and “curb your enthusiasm” has become unwatchable. i think season 2 is a probability though, since the ratings are (from what i understand) fairly acceptable.

  2. Car sickness is the feeling you get when the monthly payment is due. ~Author Unknown

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