<i>Flight of the Conchords - you'll love it</i>

01:43, Jan 31 2009
INNOCENTS: The stars of Flight of the Conchords have just one facial expression - the poker face - as they go about their simple lives.

You have to wonder what Americans made of HBO serving up Flight of the Conchords (Prime, 10pm Monday) in the wake and devastation of The Sopranos and such raunchy shows as Six Feet Under and Sex and the City.
Blog: The art of laffing

On the Common Sense Media website, which gives a steer to parental guidance of TV viewing, the assessment of Flight of the Conchords came with the advisory: "Parents need to know that this musical comedy about a faux folk duo is pretty mild."

And indeed this show is so innocent it could be called No Sex in the City or, if Woody Allen had anything to do with it, Everything You Wanted to Know about Not Getting Sex in the City.

In fact, even though Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie use awkward silences rather than words as their preferred way of communication, they are quite Woody Allenesque characters.

Sure, they're not as chatty and verbose as The Whining One, but their hopeless quest for nearly beautiful young women – who Jemaine in one of his songs likens to a tree or a high-class prostitute, makes them just as vulnerable, if not more endearing.

This show is so slight in its content you experience a sense of relief when the duo break into one of their witty song parodies, in which they get to change gear, open up big time and emote.


Jemaine and Bret (the TV characters) are so monosyllabic and quiet they could almost be accused of being a return to that puzzling and frustrating stereotype of the strong silent man. Only these guys don't come across as particularly strong – then again, they're not weak either, but might possibly be the embodiment of the Passionless People.

With its single camera and simplistic plot line – episode one: Jemaine and Bret fall out over a beautiful girl while a plain girl stalks them – you worry that this little show exposed to a sophisticated audience could, in the lines of Murray, the cultural attache to the New Zealand embassy, "be murdered or even ridiculed".

That was Murray's warning to Bret and Jemaine on going out after dark in the Big Apple as he sat with them in his office lined with fake wood veneer and Kiwi tourism board posters with the promising tagline of "New Zealand – don't expect too much. You'll love it." This is also a tagline for this sparest of shows which never lets you forget the inference that these Kiwis come from a backwater so far off and tiny it doesn't count in the grand scheme of things.

Bret and Jemaine are the new Beverly hillbillies with different banjos but without the bubbling crude, for this duo are without money, contacts or too many friends.

There's only a chinless female stalker who bails up Bret in the street to tell him: "You can tell me anything, anything, I promise. I won't think you're a pervert."

The very thought of it, that one of the Wellington lads could be any such thing. Good grief, these guys could fly back on Friday and stand for mayor and get in with a landslide.

What you are observing with Flight of the Conchords is a kind of anti TV, in which the locations are shabby, four-wall interiors and the joke that these small-time, little-country lads have come to the big smoke to make it is the only joke.

The Conchords' one facial expression is poker face, deadpan as they go about their simple lives beating a path to Murray's office to devise more ways of improving their fan base of one, or going to a party at Dave's place.

There, Dave spurns their friendly howdies because he's busy striking a lonely guy pose to try and attract sympathetic female attention.

Jemaine catches on real slow and waves Bret away from the couch they are sharing so he can look lonesome, eventually securing the attentions of a girl who is as beautiful as both the tree and the high-class hooker.

This show stays true to its cult fan base and doesn't try to be anything terribly flash. It's happily mild and there's a deadness to it that is strangely reassuring.

Sure, you long for Jemaine and Dave to get a little more excited about things now and then, but Bret has admitted he's a bore.

However, the duo manage to fascinate each other and Bret pines for Jemaine when he's out squiring Sally, who soon comes to the sad realisation that she fell for him when she was drunk and breaks it off, whatever "it" was.

Their ensuing song about missing each other with the bittersweet chorus of denial – "I'm not crying, I'm just a little sweaty today" – as the guys cry big fake greasy Vaseline tears over each other is absurdly moving.

This modern take on mateship is the show's quiet charm.

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