TV Review: Flight of the Conchords

by Stephen Tringali

Flight of the Conchords might want to consider changing their billing from “New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk-duo” to “New Zealand’s only folk-duo with an HBO television series.”

The comedy series, which premieres Sunday, June 17, (the entire first episode can be seen at HBO's website) follows Conchords’ guitarists and vocalists Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as they tackle their most challenging quest since leaving New Zealand: discover success in New York City, where their only fan is a wide-eyed, windbreaker-wearing woman who propositions them with lines like “You can tell me anything. Anything. I promise I won’t think you’re a pervert.”

The show itself might come as a surprise to fans. Sure, the Conchords have entertained television audiences before. But they’ve usually appeared as a musical/standup comedy act like Stephen Lynch — only their blend of comedy is more awkwardly hip than gleefully naïve.

The Conchords carved out their first successes as a musical/standup duo by playing events like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and by appearing on television shows like HBO’s One Night Stand and Australia's The World Comedy Tour. With that sort of fruitful past, fans might be wondering how well HBO producers were able to translate the group’s standup routine into half-hour plotlines.

Well, the answer — which has only been determined based on the single episode available to watch online — is not quite what most fans might want. The show is essentially a hit or miss affair.

The show's uncertain, straight-faced delivery in the face of embarrassing situations serves as glue for the Conchords’ more familiar material, their musical numbers. While watching, however, viewers may find themselves sitting stone-faced through the situational comedy, waiting for the boys to strike up another song.

Jemaine’s uncomfortable dating experiences, for instance, don’t elicit the same laughter that his serenading does. “You’re so beautiful,” he sings to one girl. “Like a tree or a high-class prostitute.”

Some songs are culled from previous standup material, such as "Robot," which was used during their failed music video experiments, and some are written specifically for the show. Both new and old material is equally humorous.

It’s much too early to determine whether the show will succeed in the same way that the group’s standup routine does. If the Conchords can manage to infuse more of their awkward charm into the show’s plotlines and keep their contact with taciturn ex-girlfriends to a minimum, then perhaps the show will live on as more than a minor amusement.

If not, then we can only hope the band will go back to focusing on their standup material and forego a second season.

(Promotional photo of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement — left to right — Flight of the Conchords, from HBO. To see Flight of the Conchords perform "Robot," as part of an HBO promo, please check below.)

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Anonymous said...

bloody painful to watch. please fellows, go back to New Z, we have enough bad comedians in this country already. if you do decide to stay and give this TV thing a go then get someone who can write to work on your show...

Anonymous said...

agreed. really terrible. don't understand how it got on HBO. if these guys want to see how many Americans they can put to sleep in a half an hour, they will probably be counting for days to come. One positive, Murray, the manager.

Das Ben said...

are you shitting me? i found the show was so funny that i've watched it three times so far (yay for it being online). the show should be huge!!! (although agreed their stand-up is even better).

Anonymous said...

I agree! This show could be a really big hit. The songs are hilarious! That alone makes this show unique. I can't wait to see the next episode!

Anonymous said...

These guys are legends. No one in britain/NZ/OZ will have a problem with the script but it may need a little tweaking for the american audience. It will catch on I'm sure. Go conchords!!

Rick Rockwell said...

Although the Conchords seem to be a hit with readers of this blog, Steve's tepid review of the series seems to be more in tune with viewers in the U.S.

The first episode attracted just 1.2 million viewers... that's ten percent of the audience of a hit on broadcast television or 20 percent of a hit on cable. The second episode attracted less viewers: 973,000. So far, the Kiwis are sinking.

To check the Nielsen ratings numbers yourself, please, go here.

Nate Stickney said...

I will be incredibly sad to see this show go. Maybe it's time placement isn't the best--doesn't frequently match humor styles with that of entourage. I guess you gotta start somewhere though. I could see it with a nice audience on one of those 10 or 1030 spots on comedy central. The humor is there.

Anonymous said...

Flight of the conchords have a dead pan and witty sense of humour with no laughter sound track or studio applause so AMericans may find it a little difficult to follow.

Rick Rockwell said...

Summer is not always kind to new shows.

For those searching for clues about how the Conchords are doing, apparently the audience continues to shrink. The most recent Nielsen ratings show the audience down to 817,000.

That's according to USA Today.

Rick Rockwell said...

To all who keep worrying about the Kiwis and their progress...

Despite the middling ratings... the folks at HBO apparently liked the buzz around the show (despite this review) and have renewed it for 2008.

Please go here for more.

Anonymous said...

This show is the best. I loved Entourage so I ended up catching a little bit of Flight of the Conchords afterwards. It took me like 2 shows and I was HOOKED. I went back and rewatched the first few episodes I missed, and I waited impatiently for the new episodes to come out every week. Seriously, SO good.

Rick Rockwell said...

For those coming here to look for a review of the new Flight of the Conchords album, please go here.

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