HBO // 2010 // 690 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // August 24th, 2010
"You're so beautiful, like a tree...or a high class prostitute."
After two brilliant seasons on HBO, the classic folk-rock sitcom Flight of the Conchords called it quits in 2009, returning their hapless heroes Bret and Jemaine to New Zealand. But cheer up, FOTC fans, don't let it get you down -- we still have 22 hilarious episodes to obsessively re-watch, now conveniently packaged in one handy boxed set.
When Flight of the Conchords landed on HBO in 2007, Bret (Bret McKenzie) and Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) -- who billed themselves as "New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo" -- looked to be another mock rock band in the vein of Tenacious D and Spinal Tap. But they quickly established their own identity as a pair of lovable losers, perpetually broke would-be folk-rock stars trying to make their name in America, but far too polite and clueless to make it much further than the occasional gig at the city aquarium or public library.
With their low-key charm and clever, infectious songs drawn from all over the musical map, the Conchords almost immediately became a cult phenomenon, their live shows selling out all over the country, lyrics from their songs being quoted all over the Internet, and YouTube videos of them being passed around social networking sites.
At first glance, the appeal of FOTC isn't immediately apparent; while the premise of a self-parodying band making fun of musicians' pomposity with deliberately lame lyrics is a reliable source of comedy, it's a concept we've seen since at least as far back as The Rutles. When the show premiered in 2007, I was skeptical. But I can remember the exact second I became a convert: exactly three minutes into the first episode of Season 1. Bret and Jemaine are at a party, trying unsuccessfully to mingle and ending up sitting together on a couch. Jemaine looks up from his samosa and beer and sees...The Girl. Suddenly we hear plinky guitars as Jemaine, squinting sexily behind his horn-rimmed glasses, croons, "Yea-heah..." and breaks into a luscious Prince-esque soul ballad as he approaches her:
Looking at the room, I can tell that you
Are the most beautiful girl in the...room.
And when you're on the street, depending on the street,
I bet you are definitely in the top three
Good looking girls on the street.
By the time Jemaine "seals the deal" with his super sexy dance moves, I was in love with this show.
As a vaguely mockumentary-style sitcom about a pair of folk-rock musicians who suck in real life (a running joke is that they almost always play the same song at every gig, a lame number consisting solely of the repeated monotone lines "Who likes to rock the party? / We like to rock the party") but in their imaginations explode into elaborately produced, music-video-style musical numbers, Flight of the Conchords is hilariously witty even without the songs. Surrounding the main duo is a perfect supporting cast, including Murray Hewitt (Rhys Darby, Pirate Radio) as their ineffectual band manager, an unforgettably crazy-eyed Kristen Schaal as Mel, their single obsessed fan, and their friend Dave Mohumbhai (Arj Barker), who gives the duo reliably wrongheaded advice on how to score with American women.
Most of the episodes center around the band's poverty (at one point Bret's purchase of a teacup sends the pair down a spiral of financial ruin ending with Jemaine becoming a male prostitute) and inability to get either paying gigs or dates with women, as well as plenty of self-deprecating jokes about New Zealanders' naivete and cluelessness. Each episode also features at least one or two songs, which are the show's centerpiece.
It's impossible to pick a favorite, but a couple of classics include Season One's "Business Time" ("Girl, tonight we're gonna make love. You know how I know, baby? 'Cause it's Wednesday. And Wednesday night is the night that we make love.") and Season Two's awesomely freaky "Sugalumps" ("Honeys try all kinds of tomfoolery / To steal a feel of my family jewelry"). The songs may seem superficially half-assed, but listen closely and you'll see how meticulously crafted they are, and how brilliantly they simultaneously honor and parody just about every pop/rock style from the awesome David Bowie pastiche "Bowie's In Space" to the pompous message-soul masterpiece "Think About It" ("A man is lying on the street, some punk has chopped off his head / And I'm the only one who stops to see if he's dead / Turns out he's dead"). The Conchords approach to parody is so good-naturedly self-effacing, it's easy to miss how cutting they can be in puncturing the fatuous self-importance endemic in their world.
Unfortunately for FOTC fans, Bret and Jemaine chose not to continue the series after the second season. The Flight of the Conchords: The Complete Collection set compiles both of the previously released season sets, and adds a third disc, Flight of the Conchords: One Night Stand, a 30-minute live performance special for HBO's One Night Stand series that pre-dates the series. It's an extra FOTC fans who haven't seen it already will love, but for those who already own both seasons on DVD, is the half-hour of live material worth re-purchasing the other discs? For completists, yes -- buy this set and sell your old discs.
For those who don't own the previous seasons, the set offers superb video and audio quality, with a lovely, crisp, vivid transfer that makes for a terrific archive copy of the series. Season Two improves on the first season's Dolby Digital 2.0 audio with a full, rich 5.1 track (English only). One of the complaints about the first season set -- no extra features -- is remedied on the second season discs, with a half-hour "Flight of the Conchords: On Air" documentary feature that gives some background on the show's conception and near-instant popularity -- which took Bret and Jemaine utterly by surprise -- and a satisfying collection of odds and ends including a slew of deleted scenes from Seasons 1 and 2, outtakes, and a collection of short videos (including some funny "Dave's Pawn Shop" commercials) originally offered on YouTube.
While the first season of Flight of the Conchords is an indisputable masterpiece, the series did flag a bit in its second season, with less-memorable songs and plotlines that felt wackier, the jokes more forced. Chalk it up to second album syndrome: FOTC had written and perfected most of the songs from the first season years before the show's creation, when they were part of the duo's standard repertoire. Then, with the success of the series, Bret and Jemaine faced the unenviable task of coming up with another set of funny, clever songs in just a year or so.
Not only that, but having created twelve perfect gems revolving around a simple premise of two down-and-out musicians, their daffy manager, and stalkery fan, where to go from there without repeating themselves several times too often? The answer seemed to be to stick with the formula, but ramp up the absurdity, which led -- perhaps unavoidably -- to episodes that felt like "more of the same, only more so" remixes of the first season. By the time I got to funny but forgettable tunes like "Fashion Is Danger" and "I Told You I Was Freaky," I began -- to my dismay -- to feel like it might not be a complete tragedy if Bret and Jemaine quit the show while they were still on top.
Still, Season Two has its share of indelible moments, including Jemaine's super-sexay "Sugalumps" dance number from "New Cup," the completely straight-faced Magnolia sendup "Hurt Feelings" from the "Tough Brets" episode, and the story arc toward the end of the season involving a visit from "Brian," the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Even a so-so season of Flight of the Conchords makes for amazing TV.
Flight of the Conchords, the series, may be gone, but fortunately, Flight of the Conchords the band is alive and well. I can't wait to see what these guys come up with, in the distant future. In the meantime, we can relive the good times with this lovely boxed set.
The court finds Flight of the Conchords: The Complete Collection not
guilty -- if that's what you're into.
Review content copyright © 2010 Bryan Byun; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 690 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Dave's Pawn Shop Commercials
* New Zealand Consulate Meetings
* Official Site
* What the Folk! Fan Site