March 22nd, 2009
While the title above is fairly ambiguous, and HBO hasn’t come out and said what kind of finale this was in the end, the actual content of the episode spoke quite clearly: while this was not the season’s musical or comic highlight, it had that air of finality not just of some sort of season-long storyline but rather the very setup of the show. Offering up a meta-commentary wherein the show’s Bret and Jemaine move closer, albeit more wackily, to the commercialization of the real Bret and Jemaine feels like the way you end this series, not just a season, and coming back from the episode feels like it might not just be impossible, but also inadvisable.
And yet, at the same time, it also captures the reasons why the show is so charming, and why this second season has remained a weekly highlight even when I’ve been disappointed by much of the season’s musical interludes. The show found itself quite the comic voice as it headed into this season, and that’s something it has maintained with startling efficiency. While parts of this episode returned to more simple forms of humour that the show used in its original premise, the supporting characters around it have evolved so much further that it’s an entirely different show, and a better one.
So HBO and the Conchords have a very tough decision to make – is it good to go out while you’re still making people laugh and when you’ve crafted a satisfying conclusion, or do you want to continue to tell the story of the band that starts at the bottom, continues along the bottom, and ends up at the bottom for another season?
I’m still not sure which camp I find myself in.
March 15th, 2009
At the end of the first act of “Wingmen,” Murray brings Bret and Jemaine in for an entirely unnecessary band meeting: he had, in fact, only called the meeting so he could tell him that there was no need for a meeting. Murray quite wisely noted that sometimes you fall into habits and patterns, and it’s just hard to break them.
For Flight of the Conchords, that pattern is the structure that the show used in its first season, building episodes around songs, and nine episodes into its second season it feels like it is finally falling into a slightly different pattern. There are still songs, but they’re being used less as the meat of storylines and more as points of introduction or conclusion, letting the comedy fill in the gaps. While “Wingmen” wasn’t a comic highlight as far as the season is concerned, the way it used this structure was very effective, and an example of how the show has found new strength in a new structure.
March 1st, 2009
There are two stories in “Prime Minister,” and each of them is absolutely perfect for this surrealist world we’ve created. The show has leaned heavily this season on the humour to be found in New Zealand’s low level of cultural awareness, and less on the Conchords as an actual music duo: here, both of these elements are brought together with Bret and Jemaine spiraling into the world of cover bands while we get to meet Murray Hewitt’s own Murray Hewitt, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
They end up coming together better than one might expect, especially late in the episode where the “lookalike” culture moves from one storyline into another, and both end up going in directions that are awfully nutty but in a way that is always noticed by the characters, either because they were responsible for its execution or because they are sober enough to realize that Art Garfunkel showing up at your girlfriend’s door while you’re in an Art Garfunkel wig is about time to hightail it out of there.
Yet, the episode was nonetheless another sign that while the comic foundation of the show is perhaps better than other, the songs just aren’t there: here is an opportunity to potentially have the episode soundtracked by Simon & Garfunkel-esque hits, and yet instead we get a Korean karaoke song and a 90s rock song with a nice hook but nothing to really connect it to the episode’s identity. And while I’m all for the show projecting such comic confidence on one end of the spectrum, I’m still left wanting for an episode that brings the two parts together.
“Love is a Weapon of Choice”
February 22nd, 2009
After last week was, without question, my favourite episode of Flight of the Conchords’ second season, “Love is a Weapon of Choice” has a lot to live up to. Not only did last week’s “Unnatural Love” give us two of the season’s better songs, but it also delved into the wonderful Australia/New Zealand feud that has often underscored the series. It was vintage Conchords, directed by Michel Gondry, so expecting another episode to compare to it is probably unfair.
As a result, it is with tempered expectations that “Love is a Weapon of Choice” succeeds, if not overwhelmingly. Kristen Wiig proves that she fits well into this universe, something that we could have called based on her great work on Saturday Night Live, and while none of the three songs in the episode prove especially groundbreaking they fit into musical genres the show hasn’t often delved into, and were connected well enough to the romantic hijinx of the episode that I’ll forgive the lack of outright quality.
It’s not one that we’re going to remember, but it’s at least one that get a few laughs, a few catchy lyrics, and a commendation for some cleverness.
February 15th, 2009
It’s been a few weeks since I checked back in with Flight of the Conchords, and it’s really out of perpetual mild disappointment: it’s not that the show has become unfunny, but rather that part of its charm has more or less disappeared. The show has felt like it was reaching in order to recreate some of its comic highlights from the first season, with the expanded roles for Murray and Mel not being entirely unwelcome, but the charm of the show came less from the parts and more from how they came together into musically-themed episodes. The first few episodes of the season proved that the show was capable of surviving without the same kind of memorable songs, the same kind of thematic consistency to the episodes, but there was still something missing.
I think that “Unnatural Love” captures it, though: whether it was returning to the love life of our characters (a highlight for much of the show’s best material, including “If You’re Into It”), or the direction of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, various fantastic music videos), this one just felt like it was operating on a different level. I actually think that some of the other episodes this season had some sharper comedy, but the songs were so much better here, and the comedy still in plentiful supply, that this is easily my favourite episode of the season thus far.
“A Good Opportunity”
Season 2 Premiere
Over the summer, I finally got around to watching the first season of Flight of the Conchords, HBO’s wonderfully offbeat and hilarious comedy series from New Zealanders Bret and Jermaine. The first season, using songs from their great back catalogue of hits combined with new songs to stretch out the plot of each episode, was a triumph of comedy, and the very small but very alive world they created makes for the perfect antidote to the testosterone-laden comedies that more recently have dominated the pay cablers.
The second season won’t premiere on HBO until January, but U.S. viewers (and resourceful international folks) are able to catch the full episode on FunnyorDie.com. What you’ll find is the first episode where the Conchords are flying without a net: out of original material from the pre-television era, the second season is already confirmed as their last, the creative output necessary proving as taxing as you might imagine. Even the second season, though, feels different: once the backbone of the show, the music here felt by comparison to be either entirely unrelated or simply perfunctory.
This isn’t a total slight of the premiere, but rather an observation that it is changing: after spending a season developing a show that could support their music, they are now transitioning to music that can support their show. For that reason, unmemorable songs isn’t so much a concern as it is the show’s new reality: in terms of the quest of the Conchords to succeed in the music industry, with their bumbling manager Murray and their one fan Mel, the show has become about plot, specifically how the band more or less lost both of those things in the first season finale.
“A Good Opportunity” is not destined to be a classic, and doesn’t answer every question about how the show will manage a second season creatively, but the machinations of the episode are done in good form and, ultimately, add up to a welcome return for the winners of the Grammy Award for Best New Zealand Artist – or, more accurately, a pencil sharpener spray-painted gold.