Sure, it owes its entire existence to music mockumentaries and comedy acts like This Is Spinal Tap and Tenacious D, but that doesn't mean Flight of the Conchords isn't plenty of fun. This short-lived HBO series (2007-2009) was the brainchild of New Zealand musicians Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, who simultaneously carved out a devoted cult following for their music in the real world. The particular brand of music is hardly new: it's primarily tongue-in-cheek acoustic pop that borrows heavily from established styles and genres. Unlike parody musicians such as "Weird" Al Yankovic, the Conchords never directly present existing songs with altered lyrics; instead, they create playful tributes with their own unique touches. They've already released a pair of full-length albums and an EP, all of which combine songs from both seasons of the HBO series with more polished production values. Speaking of the series itself, that's where everything comes full circle: Flight of the Conchords follows Bret and Jemaine in New York City as the struggling musicians consistently strike out with small audiences, the ladies and even their own "friends". It's not 100% original and the premise can wear a little thin, but Flight of the Conchords managed to stay afloat during two successful seasons and end on its own terms.
More often than not, Flight of the Conchords constantly reminds us of two things: (1) Bret and Jemaine---the characters, not the actors---are quirky, lovable losers and (2) it would take a miracle for their act to get off the ground. They're surrounded by an equally quirky and lovable group of losers, including Murray (a local New Zealand consulate who doubles as their hapless manager), Mel (their only fan, who follows them around with freakish devotion), Dave (a potty-mouthed pawn shop owner) and a rotating cast of girlfriends who rarely stick around for more than an episode. Their lackluster lives are, of course, punctuated by musical flights of fancy: everyday errands turn into colorful dreams and break-ups transform into one-sided musical monologues. Simply put, everything and nothing is as it seems, and fans of great music and tongue-in-cheek comedy wouldn't have it any other way.
Undoubtedly, the highlights of most Conchords episodes are the terrific songs: peppered with clever wordplay and well-crafted melodies, it's often tempting to skip right to the "music videos". In contrast, the actual stories are often a little thin, but the deadpan comedy and fantastic one-liners often balance our adventures nicely. This is, of course, due in no small part to the actors themselves: McKenzie and Clement anchor the series perfectly as the unassuming underdogs, while Rhys Darby (Murray), Kristen Schaal (Mel) and Arj Barker (Dave) frequently steal scenes in their respective roles. Schaal stands out as the only regular female support; her glassy-eyed, drooling lust for the Conchords creates plenty of painfully funny scenarios. Band meetings with Murray are almost painfully dry, while their conversations with Dave are often spoken on two completely different frequencies. Overall, it's a formula that works more often than not, and the series seemed perfectly comfortable with such a brief run. From start to finish, the complete series includes the following episodes:
(22 episodes on 4 single-sided discs)
"Bret Gives Up the Dream"
"What Goes on Tour"
"The Third Conchord"
"A New Cup"
"Murray Takes It to the Next Level"
"Love is a Weapon of Choice"
"New Zealand Town"
Bonus Features (see below)
Though most fans of Flight of the Conchords prefer its debut season to the second one, I'm in the camp that appreciates both years equally. The formula is generally unchanged from start to finish: our heroes are consistently dragged through the mud---whether it's their fault or not---and they perpetually escape their humdrum lives through music. Season 1 outings like "Sally", "Mugged", "Bowie" and "The Actor" provide ample room for pitch-black comedy and heaps of creativity, while Season 2 episodes like "Good Opportunity", "Unnatural Love" and surreal series finale "Evicted" explore different themes and ideas to keep things fresh. From start to finish, a number of fantastic guest stars and cameos also spice things up a bit; familiar faces include Patton Oswalt, Lucy Lawless, Will Forte, Jim Gaffigan, Kristen Wiig, Aziz Ansari, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Judah Friedlander, John Turturro, Art Garfunkel and more. In fast, the only handicap of Season 2 is its shorter length; there's a lot to like during these last 10 episodes...and since many fans were initially upset about the lack of a third season, it's safe to say that things weren't going sour.
As for the music itself, it never really dips in quality, either. Sure, the first run of episodes features a number of classic songs that fans already knew and loved before the series debuted, but there's plenty to like about the second batch as well (and, appropriately enough, the second album). "Inner City Pressure", "Robots", "Think About It", "Motha Uckas" and "Business Time" are near the top of the Conchords heap...but so are "Hurt Feelings", "Were Both In Love With A Sexy Lady", "You Don't Have To Be A Prostitute" and "Carol Brown". If nothing else, most of the newer songs from Season 2 proved that the Conchords were blessed with exceptionally quick turnaround time. The series may be over, but at least we'll get more music in the future.
Originally released as individual season sets, Flight of the Conchords now arrives in a "Complete Collection" courtesy of HBO. Unfortunately, it's not exactly a fully-loaded release: both seasons arrive with the same packaging and extras as before, though we are treated to a short 2005 concert on an exclusive bonus disc. This will undoubtedly disappoint those who already own both seasons...but for new fans and those still on the fence, it's practically a no-brainer. Let's take a closer look shall we?
NOTE: The A/V specs, menus, and bonus features for Seasons 1 and 2 are identical to the stand-alone releases.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratios and enhanced for 16x9 displays, both seasons of Conchords look just fine. This series has always carefully balanced a stylized documentary look with more colorful music segments, so it's good to know that everything holds up quite well. The natural color palette is consistent, black levels are nicely balanced and no major digital problems can be spotted along the way. Season 2 definitely shows a marked improvement in clarity, detail and color, but that's simply because it was originally shot in high definition. Overall, fans should be pleased.
In all respects, the audio presentation tells the same story. Season 1 feels limited due to a rather plain-wrap Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix, while Season 2 opens things up nicely with a full-fledged 5.1 Surround track (available in English or Spanish on both counts). Dialogue is relatively clean and clear throughout, while Season 2's music cues offer a full-bodied experience that suits the music well. English/French/Spanish subtitles and Closed Captions are included during the episodes and select bonus features.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the 1.78:1 menu designs offer clean, simple navigation. Each episode is presented with roughly 6 chapter stops, though there's no selection screen. Both seasons are packaged the same as before (including the clear slipcovers), while the bonus disc has been tucked inside a slim keepcase. All three cases fit snugly inside an attractive slipcover, which looks nice and doesn't hog much shelf space. HBO typically goes with fancier packaging for complete series sets, but I'm actually glad they kept it simple here.
Season 1 only includes a Preview for each episode. This was disappointing the first time around, and guess what? It still is.
Season 2 picks up the slack a little. Leading things off is Hannah Clarke's "Flight of the Conchords: On Air" featurette (25:02), which peeks behind the curtain for a look at the show's first year. This segment basically follows our heroes around while they're promoting the series, but it also includes participation from some of the production team and supporting cast. Although the series itself is the main topic of discussion, the duo's successful real-life concert tour is also mentioned a few times.
This second season also includes a few additional goodies, including a collection of Deleted Scenes (16 clips, 25:04 total) from several of the final 10 episodes. Unfortunately, it's never implied where these scenes fit in during the actual episodes---but in most cases, they're more stand-alone gags than abandoned subplots. On a related note, we're also treated to a short Outtake Reel (7:06), a trio of Dave's Pawn Shop Commercials (3:05 total, below left) and a pair of "New Zealand Consulate Meetings with Murray and Greg", which are equally amusing and worth watching more than once. Oh, and we also get another round of Previews for each epsiode. As a footnote, sharp-eyed viewers should be able to find an Easter Egg floating around somewhere. Happy hunting!
The only new material here arrives on an exclusive bonus disc: it's the HBO "One Night Stand" Special from 2005 (29:56, below right). Six songs and plenty of banter are featured during this short acoustic set, including "Jenny", "Issues (Think About It)", "Business Time", "Albi, the Racist Dragon", "Hip-hopopotamus vs. Rhymenocerous" and "She's So Hot (Boom)". This is a solid set with great crowd response, although any Conchords show that doesn't include "Robots" is bound to disappoint slightly. Overall, it's a great little slice of music history that fans should enjoy, whether they've seen it before or not. This special is presented in its original 4:3 format with a 2.0 Stereo mix and optional English subtitles. It looks and sounds as good as expected.
It's unusual for an American show to end on its own terms after just two short seasons, but Flight of the Conchords played its cards right and never dipped in quality. This episodic comedy series mixed plenty of colorful characters with solid songs, often running our hapless heroes through the wringer in the process. HBO brings together the four-disc, two-season run with a short 2005 concert special that's new to DVD---and even though a full platter of new extras would've made this an essential upgrade, it's still a fairly-priced collection in its own right. Die-hard Conchord disciples who already own both sets probably don't need to bother with an upgrade, but all other interested parties should certainly hunt this one down. Firmly Recommended.
DVD Talk Review Link: Original Season Reviews of Flight of the Conchords
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, not slacking off and writing things in third person.