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Jay Richardson

Published October 29th, 2001 | by Jay Richardson

Flight Of The Conchords: Complete First Season Review

Classification: 15 Director: James Bobin Rating: 4/5

Since winning a cult following at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe and earning a Perrier nomination the following year, Flight of the Conchords – “formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo” – have emerged as confirmed live favourites around the world and done more than anyone to dismiss the notion that musical spoofing is a tired comedy genre.

Following a well-received run on Radio 2, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement signed to make this 12-episode series for American cable channel HBO. Expectations were high and the Conchords have essentially delivered, demonstrating another versatile string to their guitars, with the sharply written, inter-song chit-chat of their live shows translating seamlessly into television dialogue, co-written with James Bobin.

Living on New York’s Lower East Side, they play heightened, or rather unremakable, versions of themselves, a clueless duo dividing their days between failing to establish a band and unsuccessfully courting the ladies.

Normally awkward and inexpressive, Bret and Jemaine periodically burst into song a couple of times an episode, during conversations or in inner monologue. The fantastical sequences that accompany these warblings about mermaids and David Bowie exist in stark contrast to the mundanity of their lives and the pokiness of their shared apartment, often shot in the style of a music video or film pastiche.

Sending up a range of musical genres, and covering everything from Lord of the Rings’ prog-rock to the theme of kids’ TV show Albi The Racist Dragon, some of the funniest involve the gauche Kiwis’ rapping as their inoffensive alter-egos the Rhymenocerous and Hiphopopotamus. Such energetic set-pieces exist in harsh relief to the performances they give within the show’s ‘reality’, which typically sees them playing to crowds of two or three people.

With the tunes principally drawn from the Conchords’ back catalogue, fans may be disappointed that the renditions here are often far from definitive versions. Bowie, for example, is stripped of much of the bonkers joy of its recording on the Folk The World Live album, although the extra visual dimension more than compensates.

Moreover, the penning of the plots around existing songs, rather than inhibiting the narrative, actually inspires the storylines with real offbeat invention, those imaginative flights of Conchordry if you will, that render the likes of Father Ted, Black Books and Spaced so enjoyable.

The show also benefits from strong support, featuring some of New York’s best stand-ups in co-starring roles. Kristen Schaal is winsomely deranged as the band’s solitary fan Mel, doggedly stalking Bret and Jemaine despite being married to the luckless Doug.

Arj Barker plays Dave, their friend and local pawnshop owner who dispenses heartfelt advice despite living in denial about living with his parents and being unable to pinpoint the Conchords nationality. Eugene Mirman routinely pops up as the duo’s landlord and Demetri Martin and Todd Barry appear late in the series as temporary bandmembers.

The standout though, is fellow Kiwi Rhys Darby as the band’s manager Murray. Deputy Cultural Attaché at the New Zealand consulate, Murray is every bit as hapless as his part-time charges yet misguidedly persistant, insisting on a roll-call before every band meeting and loyal to the Conchords cause come what may, or more likely, may never.

If you’ve only witnessed the sound effects schtick of Darby’s energetic stand-up, his acting here is a revelation of understatment and it’s little surprise to learn that he’s been cast in the forthcoming Jim Carrey feature Yes Man.

Over the course of the series, there’s a few too many pullback and reveal shots, where supposedly intimate conversations are suddenly shown to have a third person present. But in the main the direction simply lets McKenzie and Clement show off their simpatico comic timing, and in spite of everything, excellent voices and songwriting abilities.

Rather disappointingly, given the Conchords live special for HBO that predated this first season, there are no extras on this disc. A second series in the pipeline for 2008 is some consolation however, assuming the band can write even more killer tunes between now and then.

Flight of the Conchords is showing on BBC Four until December 2007.


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