Comedy that sounds sweet...with an accent
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.
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.
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