“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.
Like any “Look how much has changed, the show will never be the same again” finales, the premiere opens with one very simple question: how will Murray move back into the Consulate, how will Mel become the Conchords’ #1 fan again, and when will everything get back to normal (aka less poorer) conditions for our favourite singing duo. It’s a normal place for a premiere to be in, and the episode from a plot perspective handles it quite deftly.
It also, smartly, puts a big spotlight on Rhys Darby, who gets the first musical number of the episode, my favourite – his operatic song of lament at the loss of the Conchords as clients reminds us that the first season did a lot of work building his character and making him an integral part of this dynamic. While he had to sit out most of the musical interludes of the first season, “Leggy Blonde” was one of my favourites and this continues to add to the character’s strength. Darby brings a real humanity to Murray, which makes his rather stereotypical fall quite humorous.
It’s the way he takes everything seriously that does it for me – his fall, after the Crazy Dogs’ #1 smash hit is revealed to be a Polish hit from 13 years earlier copied almost exactly, is everything you’d expect although he never loses his delusions. He continues to try to hold band meetings in his reliable Toyota, with his pens and pencils in the glove compartment, and never loses that sense that this is only temporary. This isn’t the kind of character who has breakdowns, it’s the kind of character who hides everything under an external veil of confidence (or, more accurately, naive and uninformedness, but let’s give him a break here).
This episode was really about him, which shows how far the show has come – it was a great touch to learn that his fellow embassy workers never bothered to go into his office, just presumed that he had (for months) been on vacation or taking a leave, which doesn’t make him sad but rather gives him a chance to get back his old life. We want this to happen, and it was actually an achievable goal: so often this show is about the absolute futility of the Conchords’ attempts to gain fame in America (as we learn it, with no Visas or passports), so it was nice to see a character with a successful (if downgraded) place in this world.
As for the Conchords themselves, this was a bit of a slow episode. I thought that the Femident toothpaste (including guest star Greg Proops, who I haven’t seen since his Whose Line…? days) was a bit of a non-starter as far as jokes go, and the resulting jingle and commercial were pretty simple in their execution. In the first season, the songs were large and grandiose, which made the joke that these humble New Zealanders were breaking out into these songs within the context of their boring lives. Now, however, this felt too manfactured: it wasn’t a dream sequence or out of place, it was actually part of their lives. That didn’t work for me: it felt like the world was becoming too much like the fantasy song reality.
And I’ve always found that the songs have always worked best either when they’re actually part of this world (the classic and wonderful “If You’re Into It”) or so contrary to their characters that it becomes hilarious (“Hiphoppapotamus vs. Rhymenocerous,” anyone?) – this one just never really clicked, or felt part of something bigger. The final song kind of had the same problem: it didn’t have any connection to the story, I didn’t really think its lyrics were all that clever, and catchy is certainly not the word I’d use to describe it.
But this isn’t as big a problem as it would have been in the beginning – while I do hope that they add to their memorable catalogue in the future, it was great having them back. There’s this great quaintness to this show: Bret’s lack of a right shoe, Bret paying $4 for a pen, the advertising agents only liking one of them, Mel’s record burning (and her continued genius treatment of Doug), and Dave’s strategy of finding girls at a pool in the middle of Fall.
That was all in fine form here, so even if I found the songs a bit lacking it seems like a solid start to the season – it will just be curious to see, now that the show is dictating the songs, whether both sides will reach the levels the first season occasionally ascended to.
- I never really paid attention to the actor who plays Doug, Mel’s husband, before, but Doug Costabile was in two of the past year’s best shows – he played the bearded private investigator type on Damages, and then he plays the shallow editor at the Baltimore Sun on season five of The Wire. I’ve always loved him in this role, his and Mel’s dynamic is just fantastic.
- Loved the little beat of Murray trying to sell records, as usual, but this time selling his gold records for “The Doggy Bounce” and the band’s other hits. I also liked that there was never any question what was about to happen: the show never pretended that the bottom wouldn’t fall out from the Crazy Dogs, considering their chart topping going from 1 to 5 to 37.