Monday, September 03, 2007

Flight of the Conchords

"If it would not look too much like showing off, I would tell the reader where New Zealand is." - Mark Twain 1897

"If the people in New Zealand want to be part of our world, I believe they should hop off their islands and push 'em closer!" — Lewis Black (after a 22-hour plane trip to New Zealand)

Television Programming Rule No. 1 - Take an original idea, beat it to death, and then continue broadcasting it until the last ounce of advertising revenue has been extracted. Reality shows are the latest manifestation of this axiom. We've seen Survivor No. 1 through 750,000. The only place where they haven't positioned a show is New Zealand. And that's probably because the studio executives couldn't find it.

Now New Zealand has stepped into the limelight with the new HBO hit comedy Flight of the Conchords. The show stars Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement (playing themselves) as two innocent Kiwi musicians who move to The Big Apple, seeking fame and fortune for their novelty band. This is the freshest TV that I've seen in years. The comedy is original and intelligent. "Conchords" is for people who don't mind having to think before they laugh - a rare phenomenon in a medium where viewers are usually offered boobtube baby food.

Combined with a strong cast of characters, edgy plots, and campy music videos, this half hour program packs more entertainment than many of its one-hour contemporaries.

Supporting roles are:

Murray Hewitt (played by Rhys Darby) is the band's manager. He also works as a cultural attache' for the New Zealand Consulate. The band's meetings are held in his Consulate office. Murray's role calls during these gatherings are classic. See Murray's Band Meetings. He is optimistic and enthusiastic, but doesn't have any idea how the music industry works. Brett and Jemaine are equally clueless, so their joint efforts to achieve stardom are filled with hilarious misadventures.

Mel (Kristen Schaal) is the band's only fan. She is also a stalker, with Brett being the object of her lustful obsession. With her big eyes and cartoon voice, she is perfectly cast for this role. In one episode she pops up in front of the boys from a basement stairway. When Jemaine asked her what she was doing down there, she says "jogging". Kristen's scenes are comic genius. See Bret and Mel in Bathroom.

Dave (Arj Barker) runs a local store that sells just about everything. Dave presents himself as a babe magnet, but his real life is far less glamorous. He still lives with his parents, but denies it by claiming that they are "just a crazy old couple that he sublets his apartment to". Dave counsels the boys about American culture and women, often with disastrous results. See He May Be Did!

The Conchords' music videos are seamlessly woven into the story plots, and provide a melodic counterpoint. You can see some of them on YouTube:

* Ladies of the World

* Foux De Fa Fa

* Albi the Racist Dragon

There are a number of people behind the scenes who significantly contributed to Season One's success:

Stu Smiley developed the series and is Executive Producer. He also developed and executive produced Everybody Loves Raymond, which was nominated for 6 Emmys (and won twice) for Outstanding Comedy. That always looks good on the resume!

James Bobin is Executive Producer, Co-Creator, and and Director. "He won a British Academy of Film and Television Award for 'Best Comedy Series' in 2000, and has also been nominated for other awards by the Royal Television Society and the Monteux Television Festival. In the US he directed and co-wrote all 12 episodes of the critically acclaimed 2 seasons of 'Da Ali G Show' for HBO in 2003 and 2004. He was nominated for 'Best Director' Emmys for both seasons, as well as sharing writing nominations twice."

Troy Miller has been nominated for nine Best Director Emmy awards, and has won twice. "Miller has produced and directed all of the infamous short films that open the Oscar® telecast that featured Billy Crystal embedded within the footage of other films. Jon Stewart also used Miller to craft the opening for his most recent Oscar® opening that featured Actors George Clooney, Chris Rock, Halle Berry, Steve Martin and David Letterman."

FOC's first season ended on Sept. 2. For the next month, HBO On Demand featured all of the first season episodes, but then inexplicably removed them - while retaining programs of lesser quality. I am checking with The Hague to see if this action qualifies as a Crime Against Humanity. Most FOCers would say "Yes"!

There are very few TV programs that I would watch more than once, but "Flight of the Conchords" is on my short list. Trudi and I have seen many episodes 10 times or more, and still enjoy them. With each viewing, we pick up more nuanced nuggets of humor. I am convinced that this series will become a TV classic.


Nomi said...

Hi. Nice post. I'm a huge fan. I don't understand why they took it off On Demand. I don't get it.

Only thing I'd quarrel with slightly is that they don't exactly play themselves. In one interview, Jemaine said Bret's not as naive as "Bret" and he -- Jemaine -- is not as stupid. Though I'd say that goes for both of them, the point was they're playing versions of themselves.

Also, don't you think that in the story -- not the music videos -- they are not the greatest musicians? This is somewhat debatable, of course, but any little bit that we've seen of them actually playing within the story has been pretty bad. I guess one partial exception would be when Jermaine writes the song about Bret and plays it to him in the bedroom.

Additionally -- now I know I'm getting picky here -- but in the show they play musicians, not comic musicians.

Anyway, nice write up. I saw the link you put on the HBO message board. Thanks.

Monkey Bob said...

Hi Nomi:

Thank you for your response. Since I began Monkey Prose one year ago, I have received over 12,000 site visits, but only about a dozen comments. And yours was one of the few that wasn’t trying to sign me up for Amway or get me interested in the Nigerian Lottery. It’s nice to hear from a real person.

I am addicted to Flight of the Conchords. I could watch it (and their HBO Concert) many many times and still enjoy the experience. When the series ended, I felt like I was losing two close friends. But don’t worry, I won’t be stalking them (like Mel). New Zealand is way too long a plane flight for me!

I agree with you that Bret’s and Jemaine’s TC personae are not 100% accurate presentations of their real personalities, but hey, that’s television. The 100,000 reality shows out there illustrate how painfully boring real people can be, so I guess that a good TV story needs to enhance reality.

I also agree with you that “the TV” Bret and Jemaine are not Julliard School quality musicians. When they play during World Music night at the bar, they are tuning up on stage, which I never saw Pablo Casals or Gil Shaham do. But I think that this flaw adds to their characters’ appeal. They are lovable losers - that people can sympathize with (and feel a little bit better than).

I am looking forward to Season 2. meanwhile I am relying on YouTube to get my daily fix of Conchords.

Nomi said...

Wow, 1,000 to 1 ratio on views to comments. That's rough. Though, I bet that's not uncommon. But 12,000 readers is a lot -- or visits -- still a lot.

Monkey Bob said...

Hi Nomi:

Today I added a link on Monkey Prose to your blog – Bloggidy Blog. I love the name! (Please advise if you don’t want me to link to your blog.) “Bloggidy-blog” is the blog version of blah-blah-blah, which seems appropriate in a medium where many bloggers talk about themselves, with posts that vary from riveting to extremely uninteresting. Blah-blah-blah. Hmmm, maybe one of the presidential candidates should adopt that phrase. It would save them a lot of money on speechwriters!

I also checked out some of your artwork at Very interesting style! I hate to compare painters to other painters because each artist is unique, but what the hell, I’m going to do it anyway. In your style I can see some Cezanne and also some influence of the impressionists. The pixilation in your paintings makes the images dance and appear to be alive. I like it!

About 100 years ago, when I was in college (the 1960’s) I was an art major and I also did charcoal portraits. But alas, I discovered that as a paying job, my financial options were very limited. So I had to jump into the working world. Although I can tell you that being a worker bee in the hive of US culture is highly overrated. I now work as a sales representative in the biological research field, which pays well, but which is very demanding. I work about 70 hours a week. Besides, I’m 58 and don’t want to be hauling a sample case into Manhattan when I am 70, so I need to develop a “Plan B”. I am hoping that writing will be my ticket out of the rat race.

I just had a Monkey Prose blog post quoted in the latest issue of Wired Magazine, so this external validation has encouraged me to continue with my writing. I really love it, and I think that I have something interesting to say.

I live in NJ, so I am familiar with Brooklyn. It is that place between Manhattan and France. It has good restaurants and housing prices that are within the reach of mere mortals. I also love BAM and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, which has one of the best collections of Bonsai in the world.

I am always looking for interesting people and subjects to write about, and I would be glad to write a story about you and your art. Please advise if you would like to do so.

Anonymous said...

a new zealander here! yes, a new zealander other than bret and jemaine! lol

came across this post as i was reading the millions of articles on the guys' emmy nomination today;
nice work - i ddnt know mark twain said anything about nz!

new zealand is soooo worth the plane trip! trust me ;) oh and its cheap as hell for you guys to come here. i came up to la and chicago in april and it cost me over $2000.

anyway! i have a blog and talk about kiwi stuff here and there - drop me a line sometime :)

oh and thanks for the enthusiasm about our famous twosome, nz deserves the attention lol

~ safia [in auckland, nz]