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.
Okay, that’s not entirely true: I think that, if you forced me to make a decision on the spot, I would end Flight of the Conchords – I’m really intrigued about what Bret and Jemaine do next, especially outside of the somewhat constricting structure of a television series. Yes, this is a wackier show than most, and doesn’t have normal structures in any way, shape, or form, but it’s still a forced source of output that they’ve given a lot of their lives to. At this point, I’d want to go out and tour, and test our new material without having in the back of my mind how I could possibly turn it into a staged musical number for my TV show.
And “Evicted” was kind of about that struggle, in a way, about knowing when it’s time to diversify and move on. The Off Broadway musical about their lives, which Murray pitched as the next Mamma Mia!, was supposed to be this crowning moment, but the duo didn’t actually have any sort of upward trajectory. Perhaps that is how they feel about this series, lacking in that crescendo of meaning and serial storylines, always operating on the same level and in need of a rest. And yet, at the same time, the series still has plenty of potential, and that mundane life has been its calling card, so it’s hard not to be kind of torn when you see an episode like this one.
The show returned to some of its most basic humour in this one: the guys paying their rent in New Zealand dollars, for example, was the kind of culture shock storyline that is often ignored in favour of more nuanced or personal stories. Returning to it felt like returning back to when the show first started, but now as noted above the rest of the series has caught up. This episode was all about life moving too fast for Bret and Jemaine, one month flashing by in a title card, and weeks of preparation on their show whizzing by, which feels like a fitting way to describe their entire stay in New York: they’re still going at New Zealand pace, and New York just isn’t ready for their laid back style or rather oddball tendencies.
But we, as an audience, are, especially since the world around them has only gotten wackier. It was great, should this be the final sendoff, to have some final moments for Mel and Doug’s very odd relationship, showing us its potential breaking point as they separate and start dividing up Bret and Jemaine as if they were their children. The entire idea of cohabitating with Mel was rife with potential humour, but for it to play out in that domestic sense totally played into the extremely odd parent/lover position Mel has taken with them, along with Doug’s repressed identity that we never get to see, and that we learned includes rowdy partying, struggling with addiction, powerwalking, and playing the harp. There was something indulgent about spending so much time with them, but in the end it felt justified should this be the end of the series.
Murray was, as always, a comic highlight: the idea that he is a sleep groper, and that this qualifies as a condition, was kind of fantastic, as was the entire sequence wherein he tried to pretend as if Jemaine and Bret’s life had been Star Wars. It’s not because it was particularly novel: it wasn’t, and the show knew that. Murray is never actually a genius, but he’s so convinced he is, and he goes so far to prove it. He didn’t just make their story like Star Wars, he cast Uncle Owen and Aunt Beeru, and he created a set with their house, and had Greg prepare a Landspeeder to roll out on cue. Combine with the eventual staged musical, wherein there is a chorus line of Murrays (let me repeat that: a chorus line. Of Murrays. It was amazing), and you have one of those storylines that is not in itself great but rather becomes great based on its execution.
And that’s the thing about an episode like this one: compared with “Unnatural Love” or even “Prime Minister,” this one is nowhere close: the humour wasn’t approaching the same level of satire, and the music just wasn’t there (which I’ll get to in a second). But those opening and closing scenes, as Bret and Jemaine overexcitedly make music using the world around them, were the scenes that embody, if not the very moments of the series, its very essence. The show makes something out of nothing, spectacle our of the mundane: the attention to detail in that first section, with the slinkee making an appearance along with the leftover goldfish from last week’s episode, combined with the playing of both the pigeons and the sheep, make for a really engaging reminder of how unique this show really is.
I do wish, though, that the music had been there as well: we never got to see an entire song from the musical, and while there was some fun humour along the way (Doug playing the harp, Dave appearing as the Statue of Liberty, the sheep attached to their legs so they could move them themselves) none of the music actually made an impact or got stuck in my head. The episode’s one song, “Petrov, Yelyena and Me,” was a really odd choice for the finale: a French Sea Chantey about cannibalism was not, I will admit, the kind of song I expected would close the series, and part of me wishes that they had gone back to their musical well and dragged out some old favourite to work into the musical version of their lives.
The show has been moving away from the songs all season, and if they were to continue it would certainly be with this new hierarchy of comedy over music – that’s fine, but part of me did wish that the finale would reach further to unite the two in the way that an episode like “Unnatural Love” did. Going back into the middle of the season to that episode is surely getting annoying for anyone reading my reviews, but it just stuck out like an awesome thumb for every episode thereafter, and the show never really even tried to do it again.
The result is that I don’t know where it should go from here: I’m satisfied that this episode shows Bret and Jemaine back in New Zealand, having failed to conquer America but not having let America conquer their unique musical stylings (sheep shearing is so damn melodic, right?), but do I really think we’ve done all we can in New York? Part of me would love to see them move to another city, see where these characters could go, but the show’s identity is in New York architecture, and New York culture, and for all of that to shift seems like trading away part of what makes the show work so well.
Even if it didn’t quite stand alone as a brilliant episode, there was something about this one that just felt final, but in the Conchords type of final where a grand conclusion is replaced by a mediocre failure. And “We Did It!” might not be enough to satisfy fans, or even Bret and Jemaine themselves, when it comes time to deciding the show’s fate. Considering the tone of the series, they could easily retcon their way back to New York in no time flat, and no matter how the show could continue as long as Murray comes along for the ride I think it’s going to be okay.
But that decision now lies in the hands of two legal immigrants who play illegal immigrants on TV.
- I love that Eugene has a calculator watch, but am curious what equation Jemaine did to come to the conclusion that they would never have that much money (although maybe that’s what happens when you take futureactively into account). And speaking of money, I have to wonder just what Doug and Mel do for a living to have that pretty decent piece of real estate, plus that big motorhome.
- I wasn’t a huge fan of the Cannibal song overall, but I did like how the murder in Room 204 so subtly made it into Bret’s dream – and if I was living in Mel’s house, and had heard that story, I think my mind would have gone there as well.
- In retrospect, it was kind of odd that they would show a moment like Jemaine being a prostitute within the musical montage, but then not show any of Season One’s story points directly – even if I think Season 2 found a stride, I think I prefer Season 1 overall, and kind of wish that had been reversed.
- Mel’s use of the term “Whore Home” cracked me up, for reasons I don’t really understand.
- Not sure where the show was going with Bret fainting on stage without realizing it – it wasn’t really that funny when we never got to actually see it happen on stage, so the point of the joke is kind of lost on me.
- I don’t know if it was the funniest option, but I do like that what eventually got them exported was the fact that they were constantly working in the embassy system, what with Murray’s guests being embassy officials. There’s a disconnect there that’s always been a bit ironic, and it was nice to see it play into things.