In 10 Words or Less
Comedy that sounds sweet...with an accent
Loves: Comedy, "Tenacious D," Mel
Likes: "The Flight of the Conchords"
I loved watching this HBO comedy about a pair of quirky musicians struggling to succeed as a band, while getting into odd situations and breaking into song when inappropriate. In fact, I really loved it when it was called "Tenacious D" and starred Jack Black.
I'm just kidding. Yes, there are a good deal of similarities between the two shows (which is actually referenced in a sight gag), but the Conchords' definitely stands on its own, with a more traditional sitcom structure and a much different musical feel, as the titular kiwis, Jemaine and Bret, chase their dream of folk-rock stardom, under the less-than-inspiring guidance of their manager Murray (Rhys Darby), whose day job is working at the New Zealand consulate. Murray is pretty bad at promoting his country and its products, always in the shadow of the more-popular Aussies, establishing a sense of proud failure that colors everything the Conchords attempt to do. Essentially, the boys are lovable losers who sound kind of like Australians, but not exactly.
Each episode watches as the band struggles with Murray's inept management and their own personal problems, including Jemaine's clinginess, Bret's body-image issues and the racism they face as New Zealand-Americans. But no issue causes them as much hassle as the women in their lives, whether it's Bret's potential Yoko, Coco, Sally, whom Jermaine is desperate to impress, or the women's water-polo team they meet while on tour.
Of course, an artist's pain is an artist's muse, so the boys have plenty of inspiration, which results in some inspired and hilarious songs, like "I'm Not Crying," "If You're Into It," "Cellotape," and "Bret, You Got It Going On." Jemaine's incredibly deep voice makes everything he sings funny (and let's him do a great David Bowie impersonation), while Bret's falsetto is the perfect counterpoint, giving the right amount of false importance to their folksy ballads.
The songs are great, and the situational comedy is pretty funny, but nothing in the show makes me laugh as consistently as Mel, the band's fan (played perfectly by Kristen Schaal.) From her great back story to her pathetic husband to her fantastically creepy obsession with the band, she is a riot to watch. I don't think I've laughed harder watching this show than when she breaks into the bathroom while Bret's using the facilities, and then makes a slow, slooooooooow retreat. It's the kind of over-the-top character that should get old fast, but she just keeps getting funnier.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the one-note joke that is Murray and his band meetings. A loser is funny if he has any redeeming qualities, of which he has none. That drags down Murray-heavy episode like "Drive-By," "What Goes On Tour" and "The Third Conchord," though the latter is redeemed by guest appearances by Todd Barry and Demitri Martin as new members of the band, in what's an all-too-appropriate season finale.
A two-disc set, the first season of "Flight of the Conchords" is packed in a standard-width keepcase, with a snap-in tray for the second platter. The art is actually pretty nice, as a plain cover in the show's art style is wrapped in a clear plastic slipcover with images of the band on it, creating a cool effect. The discs feature animated anamorphic widescreen menus, which offer a choice to watch the show and select languages. Audio options include English and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish, along with closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfers on these episodes are very tight, with vivid color, where needed, and a high level of detail, making the show look a bit better than it does on the standard-definition broadcasts. There's no obvious dirt, damage or digital artifacting smudging things up either.
Surprisingly, for a series with such a strong musical bent, the show only has a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. Sure, the show is 80 percent dialogue (which is presented in crystal-clear quality) but you'd think the musical segments would get a full-scale surround presentation. Even so, the 2.0 audio does a good job with the songs, delivering them strongly through the center channel and without distortion.
The only extra you get here are the previews for each episode. It would have been fun to hear Jemaine and Bret's thoughts on the show, or better yet, Mel's.
The Bottom Line
If you enjoyed the surreal sense of humor on "Tenacious D," but prefer your heroes and music with a bit less edge to them, then the Conchords are likely to be your cup of kiwi tea. The DVDs look and sound quite nice, but the utter lack of extras is a severe disappointment, even at the discounted (for HBO) price. If you've never caught the show before, it's worth giving a look, but a purchase may not be for everyone.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.