Edelstein On "Flight Of The Conchords"

Bret and Jermaine (left) are a New Zealand team of rockers whose manager, Murray (right) utterly fails to promote them — not that the band is all that talented anyway, the comedy series "Flight of the Conchords." HBO, cable, rock, music, comedy
The cable TV series "Flight of the Conchords" has lifted off for a brand-new season, with the best wishes of our David Edelstein ...

When something is funny it's hard to say why, and when someone tries to explain it, you tend to want to punch them.

But let me take a whack at the HBO comedy series "Flight of the Conchords," which just began its second season.

It's dumb, yet it's brilliant - it's brilliantly dumb.

It's mundane, yet it's surreal - it's surreally mundane.

It's about two guys from New Zealand, Bret and Jemaine, played by Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, who have a band called Flight of the Conchords. But they can't get any gigs, and they drift around New York in a kind of mellow fog.

They're sad-sacks; you never catch them smiling. But you never catch them screaming or crying, either. They have a sort of idiot nobility - they endure.

Their music videos are the highlights, and the songs are terrible (brilliantly terrible). They're fantasies in different genres that embody Jermaine and Bret's dreams of depth and sexiness, like the Barry White-style love song to the beautiful woman:

"I see you standing all alone by the stereo.
I dim the lights down to very low, here we go,
You're so beautiful.
You could be a waitress.
You're so beautiful.
You could be an air hostess in the '60s.
You're so beautiful.
You could be a part-time model."
The rap of their alter-egos, Rhymenocerous and Hiphopapotamus:
"They call me the Hiphopapotamus,
'cause I got flows that glow like phosphorous,
Poppin off the top of this oesophageus.
Not because I'm a water-dwelling mammal from Africa,
Called a hippopotamus. I'm not a hippopotamus, I'm a Hiphopapotamus
Where did you get the preposterous hypothesis that I was a hippopotamus?
Did Steve tell you?
What's he got to do with it?
Bloody Steve!"
And because they're Kiwis, they summarize New Zealand's contribution to cinema, "The Lord of the Rings," in song:
"Frodo, don't wear the ring,
"The magical bling bling,
"You'll never be the Lord of the Rings."
Jemaine looks vaguely simian. Nose, lips, glasses: they're all oversized. He's semi-grotesque, but oddly sexy. He sings with his whole goofy heart.

Bret is the boyish cute one who has more luck with women but doesn't know what to do with them.

"How long do you wait until you let a girl come upstairs?" one lass asks.
"Three years," said Bret.
(Lass laughing) ... "Oh ... you're serious ..."
It's not that they're stupid, it's that their wheels turn very slowly, and everything - major crises, minor annoyances - is on the same deadpan level.
"We didn't win the Grammy?"
"No, you didn't."
"I thought we won Best New Zealand Artist."
"There's no such category."
The jokes are hit-and-miss, and the first episode of this season was a dud, although the second - where they try to become male prostitutes to get their guitars out of hock - is a scream.

But Jemaine and Bret are delightful even when they bomb. In the credits, they eat at the kitchen table and wiggle and bop, and their salt and pepper shakers wiggle and bop, too.

"Flight of the Conchords" is inspiring; it says that with just the teeniest turn, the humdrum can transform into the blessedly silly.

For more info:

  • Flight of the Conchords - official site ("A spokesman from the band (Bret) said it there was a five year delay launching the website online due to a 'disagreement'. Apparently there was debate over how many times letter 'W' should appear in the 'WWW' part of the web address. While Bret wanted four making the domain name wwww.conchords.co.nz Jemaine was vying for seven with wwwwwww.conchords.co.nz. It turns out that you're only allowed three anyway.")
  • "Flight of the Conchords"- HBO site