Flight of the Conchords

Daynah Burnett

Though the show occasionally lapses into the "cringe comedy" mode, made popular by The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Flight of the Conchords is also quite sweet.

Flight of the Conchords

Airtime: Sundays, 10:30pm ET
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, Rhys Darby
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: HBO
US release date: 2007-06-17
You're so beautiful, you could be a waitress.

-- Jemaine Clement

There's something familiar about the titular band of HBO's newest comedy show, Flight of the Conchords. Perhaps it's their Tenacious D-style acoustic comic rock. Maybe it's the Conchords' frontman Jemaine Clement's "indie" look, like a square-jawed David Cross with more hair and better t-shirts. Or it might be that, like many independent artists, the Conchords invoke their influences freely and intelligently, creating something fresher and smarter than their precursors.

What's initially impressive about the Conchords is their firm, collective grasp of pop music history, as both Clement and Brett McKenzie are confident, competent singer-songwriters with the versatility to channel anyone from Barry White to Radiohead (the duo's "binary solo" during the premiere episode was especially inspired, and funny). This is not to say that they're headed for the top of any pop chart; their songs are too mired in plot and irony. But the Conchords are sophisticated in their use of musical influences (think homage more than parody), so when they break into song, it's less a gimmick and more a comedic coda, tying scenes and themes together quite nicely.

Rather than provide awkward backstory, the 17 June premiere "Sally," began more or less in media res, on what seemed to be an average day for the Conchords. Both from New Zealand, Jemaine and Brett comprise the group, living on pennies in a teeny Manhattan apartment, presumably trying to make it big with the help of a daft, yet doting, part-time agent Murray (Rhys Darby), who also works as a low-rung cultural attache at the New Zealand consulate. As the three met in Murray's office and hatched a plan for filming their first music video (the boys in homemade robot suits, filmed on a cell phone camera), a tourism poster on the back wall read, "New Zealand: Don't expect too much -- you'll love it!" This initiated the episode's running joke about their native country's obscurity in the States, while lending an exoticism to the band's formulaic struggle-to-fame plight.

Though the two foreigners appear dim-witted, it's not because they are "foreign" (take that, Borat). Instead, they would be hormone-driven idiots, no matter the hemisphere they inhabit. When a frustrated Jemaine rattled off his dating history back in New Zealand -- "Sarah Fitzpatrick, Michelle Fitzpatrick, Claire Fitzpatrick, the list goes on" -- Bret observed that even though he can't land any American women, the ones he talked about "getting on" sound hotter than the girls back home. Jemaine declared smugly, "You're right, I do talk about getting with some pretty hot women."

In this episode, hot women were the chief reason the boys broke out into song at all. The first tune of the series, "Part-time Model," served as a serenade at a small party, explaining to a leggy and silent blonde how attractive she was, especially compared to air hostesses in the '60s, high-class prostitutes, and trees. Jemaine and Bret are no doubt more charming when singing "Let's go to my house/We can feel each other up on the couch," than when clumsily taking a girl some place "romantic and cheap" for a date. Though they objectified women throughout, their attitude stemmed from an inflated, hallowed regard (see: Prince). The Conchords see no sense bothering such delicate creatures, unless doing so romantically, or to punctuate their own egos.

So when Sally (Rachel Blanchard) dumped Jemaine on a city sidewalk, before she even finished delivering her break-up speech, he walked away from her to begin another song (one of my favorite moments was her remaining in the shot's background, hands raised in confusion), this one an 'NSYNC-style ballad, "I'm Not Crying," in which both men denied they were crying over a woman. Rather, they insist, their eyes are "just sweaty today." It was curious that the very woman who inspired the episode's title song ended up not worth admitting even a single tear. But of course, that's the joke: the Conchords can't resolve their feelings about women -- as a class or as individual romantic partners. Women remain muses or punch lines, never anything in between.

What's left is a relationship between the two men consistent with the best duos. Neither is capable of attaining a woman, so the partnership will likely never be in jeopardy. Though the show occasionally lapses into the "cringe comedy" mode, made popular by The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Flight of the Conchords is also quite sweet. In an establishing montage, Bret held a stopwatch to time Jemaine's exercising on his stationary bicycle. Later, when a lonely Bret was shown with a stopwatch, timing the same empty bicycle, the effect was both absurd and strangely sentimental. Just like the show.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.