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.
I could write an entire post about how much I loved the first musical number in this episode, one which involved no elaborate sets, no costumes, and only two instruments. Bret’s story of meeting a girl, reminiscing about reminiscing, and his shadow playing a bass clarinet, was one of those moments which feels quintisentially Conchords. The songs on the show usually serve mostly as parody, but some of the sharpest work are those which play directly into these characters and their lives: while technically “part” of the storyline, the canine epilepsy song was an example of one that really felt sharp, succinct and hilarious without feeling overdone or overproduced.
I got the same feeling from this opening, where an entirely pedestrian moment of Bret walking into the apartment becomes a duet of sorts, with Jemaine filling in the gaps in Bret’s logic (and dropping in some “dad guitar”) as the story continues to spiral into the realm of the imaginary. It was a smart choice for an episode that, after a few weeks of broader cultural commentary, returns to the most simple of emotions. That opening song set the story for an episode of how the imaginary worlds of these characters manifest themselves, and how incongruous they are with reality. It was a theme the show discussed already in Mel’s “Dream Song” earlier this year, but I felt that was taking things too far: this song, and the episode, remained grounded until the point where things overflowed, and Savannah pieced together just how strange these New Zealanders are.
The middle section was treading on ground the show has dealt with before: Bret and Jemaine are always way too quick to take other people’s advice, so the idea of them taking their plans from sitcoms (it’s impossible to know just which sitcoms, but enough have used both wires and the fake mugging for it to be quite ubiquitous) fits perfectly. I loved Bret’s logic that, while it didn’t work in the sitcoms, it should work in his situation because it’s “more real.” It’s actually a really interesting observation, but unfortunately Bret isn’t viewing it as some sort of ironic statement on the state of sitcom logic, made clear when he takes Mel’s advice to root through Savannah’s garbage in order to learn more about her. We, of course, realize that she is showing them her techniques for stalking them (Kristen Schaal was great in these scenes), but Bret and Jemaine are so focused on their one goal that they forget everything else and listen to everyone else (See: the kilt).
Of course, in the end, you begin to realize how too many wingmen, much like dicks on the dance floor, can become a problem: bringing in their mugging friend leads to Savannah’s purse actually being stolen; bringing in Dave results in the walkie-talkie awkwardness and the descent into freakiness; and Mel’s advice gives Bret the intimate knowledge of her electric bill which eventually send her out the door. That final song (“I Told You I Was Freekie”) was not nearly as catchy as the first, but it was a slow descent into the true lengths of Bret’s imagination, and what I liked is the reveal that it happened: Bret was covered with money honey, and Savannah was painted like the wallpaper and acting like a chameleon. It was a slow melding of reality and fantasy, which is how the show always tends to operate – and, the songs served as entry points into those worlds, and nicely capped off the way the episode was structured.
The episode’s only real problem was that Murray’s storyline was, for once this season, a weak link. His attempts to bring in Jemaine as his wingman in order to fix his relationship with Greg after the sandwich incident just didn’t connect, largely because we don’t know Greg well enough as a character and because it didn’t really add anything to the overall theme. It actually seemed to limit Murray’s humour: he could have been far funnier in the context of bailing Jemaine out of jail without having to worry about his relationship with Greg, and without a scene where Greg breaks out of his stoic nature (perhaps to acknowledge that he’s always been Murrays wingman, so taking the bullet for the sandwiches was just part for the course) felt like it would have been necessary to really make the storyline work. Murray has been a real comic force for the show, and it just wasn’t clicking this week.
I don’t want to keep comparing episodes to “Unnatural Love,” which was superlative, but that was an episode that melded together cultural commentary, strong Murray material, great songs that fit with the episode’s storylines, and questions of love and misconceptions of societal norms. It did everything that the show is known for, so when the show dials back most of them to focus on a single one it needs to operate well within the structure. The episode did that, and while Savannah didn’t have a personality and Murray seemed a bit held back, it came together well with the ending, and had plenty of small moments to demonstrate the show settling in for its new pattern.
- I enjoyed the early episode gag of seeing just where Bret was keeping the goldfish (all 63 of them) – the apartment got a lot of workout this week as a set, but my favourite moment was opening the medicine cabinet to find it filled with goldfish.
- “I Told You I Was Freekie” wasn’t all that engaging as a song, but the tricked out imagery was strong – zebra mask? Photo with a goat? Cardboard cutouts? It wasn’t as witty or charming as the first song, but it did the trick.
- I greatly enjoyed the idea that the mugger, so serious about being a professional mugger, was scared of the Hamburgler.
- I liked the idea of Murray having to bail Jemaine out of jail using diplomatic immunity, and I wonder if they’ve ever considered trying to build an entire episode around it.
- My biggest disappointment in the episode? That with a reference to Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” they didn’t get around to running it as a parody – I like that we’re not getting the OBVIOUS song parodies every week, but I kind of missed out on a Simon & Garfunkel tribute two weeks ago and on this one here.
- I didn’t review “NewZealandTown” last week, mainly because it didn’t really give me anything to say: songs were unmemorable, the Chinatown references were lost on me (I know, I know, I need to watch more classic films), and the cultural commentary was sharp but not as novel as it has been in the past.