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.
Having David, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, on hand in the episode was a comic goldmine for the show’s creative types (McKenzie/Bobbit/Clement), as it essentially gave them a second Murray, one who is somehow (but logically) even more out of touch with reality. While the country has been depicted as behind the times in the past, and certainly Jemaine and Bret have a naivete about them, we’ve never quite met someone who personified everything that other people thought about the country. This is a man who, flying into the country, is actively concerned about whether or not the main car and the girl car get together in Pixar’s Cars (“It was touch and go for a second”) and who actively believes that we are living in the Matrix. He actually made Murray seem smart, and perhaps we can blame Murray’s own worldview on having to (at least indirectly) serve under this man.
But everyone was on fire in these storylines, both in terms of observing the madness of the Prime Minister but also buying into it. It was all about degrees of separation from reality, with the Prime Minister being at the very top (believing that Bono and Elton John were actually at his party), Murray being somewhere in the middle (believing that he could use a tour as a way of getting to see the President via a chance meeting) to Bret and Jemaine (who understand that the lookalike culture is crazy, but yet nonetheless buy into it for their own personal reasons). Everyone is in some way a little bit off, but it’s all about how far off they are: it is no surprise that Dave and the Prime Minister hit it off, for example, because they both have very little relationship with things approaching reality. It was just a really fun dynamic to see play out.
The other side of the episode was equally fun, at least from a comic point of view. Bret and Jemaine as Simon and Garfunkle lookalikes is more than a little bit ridiculous, considering that they’re from New Zealand and clearly sing that way, but nonetheless the episode got to spend a lot of time making fun of that subculture as Jemaine got trapped in the web of a superfan (played by 24’s Mary Lynn Rajskub) and forced to dress up as Art Garfunkel for sexual purposes. It is, in fact, very weird, but Rajskub was a lot of fun in her brief little role, and the storyline became that much more surreal when Art Garfunkel actually showed up at her door to proclaim his love. Considering this, you could expect perhaps a song at that moment: a tale of love and loss, of beating the odds, where Bret and Jemaine could perhaps be flanked by Art and we get more folksy material than we’re used to.
But that didn’t happen: instead, we got only one real song in the episode, “Demon Woman,” which had no musical connection to the episode and never really gave us anything that interesting. The video’s strange mix of 90s music video cliches/homages combined with the gothic setup of Rajskub’s character to be moderately interesting, but I’m not rushing out to buy the song or search down the video to see it again. It was just sort of there, heavily overshadowed by the comedy of the moment. For the comedy, we got the payoff in the episode’s coda, a clever and ingenius moment where Gemaine walks into the apartment to find Bret, with short slicked hair and a suit, rehearsing with an African Choir (which, for those not familiar with the story, was from Simon’s solo album “Graceland”). It’s just a perfect moment, showing to me that they knew the potential they had with this storyline and yet never took to putting it to song.
This frustrates me, especially when the episode’s other song was a moment that never really clicked for me. Yes, the Korean karaoke song was intended to be a pickup from the earlier instance wherein they had a gig at the karaoke bar, but it felt like a joke that really had no connection to where the episode was going, and a sight-gag dependent song is kind of cheating in a way. I thought some of the non sequitors were funny, but none of them were particularly memorable, and there’s a point wherein you wonder whether that time would have been better spent either with a more connected song or, better yet, with the two good storylines they had going for them in the episode.
The rest of the episode just felt so cohesive that that song stood out like a sore thumb: this was an episode filled with guest stars (Patton Oswald joins the above two as an Elton John impersonator who is gay when he’s in character and who has fathered 11 children), and two separate storylines, but everything actually came together almost perfectly. Whether it’s Mel (who is our resident crazy psychopath fan) forcing her husband to dress up as Bret, Murray using the lookalike agency he worked with on the earlier gig to get an Obama impersonator, or the Prime Minister taking the earlier-mentioned two Elton Johns as a sign that there’s a glitch in the Matrix, it just all came together really well, something that any comedy with A/B plots needs to accomplish. However, it just felt like the music played absolutely no part in solidifying any of that: take out the music, and I would actually argue the episode was probably better.
So while I laughed a lot, and seriously think the coda was one of the show’s most brilliant moments, it just felt like I was left thinking about how much more the episode could have been if the music had contributed more to its plot.
- Maybe it’s just me, but the cheese that was brought over from New Zealand in a briefcase hardly seems like my idea for a fondue. Also, I love that a fondue is somehow more “new-fashioned” than a barbecue.
- I loved how both the Prime Minister and Murray were taking notes during their impromptu train meeting – it was the moment where their connection was most clear, and I loved the formalities they took (official apologies) and the way they planned out their fondue.
- On that note: next time I go to a party, I’ll offer to bring 6 croutons. Homemade.