Culture Connoisseur: Flight of the Conchords

This looks weird but I promise it's fantastic.
This looks weird but I promise it’s fantastic.

This summer I haven’t watched that much television. I’ve watched assorted Bravo reality television shows sporadically, the end of Hannibal (RIP),  the second season of True Detective (which was incredibly disappointing) and Show Me A Hero (GO WATCH IT, but that is not the point of this post). But when I heard that Flight of the Conchords had announced a new tour and potential movie, I knew I needed to rewatch the series.

For the uninitiated, Flight of the Conchords is a comedy that aired on HBO from 2007-09. The show is about two New Zealanders, Bret and Jemaine, who move to New York to achieve their dream of becoming a rock band. However, they’re really terrible and don’t have much success in the world of the show. But the actual show is essentially a musical, and the songs that Bret and Jemaine perform as part of the show’s narrative are excellent. Bret and Jemaine are essentially versions of the actors who play them, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement. They are a very good comedy musical duo that is also named Flight of the Conchords, so it’s sort of art imitating life imitating art.

I watched Flight of the Conchords for the first time during my sophomore year of high school, when my friend Siena introduced me to it. We were obsessed for the better part of a year, watching the DVD and referencing the show whenever we could. I don’t recall watching it again between then and recently, and thought that an announcement of new material warranted a rewatch. And because I realized that it’s even better than I remember it, I wanted to share. Here are a few reasons why you should watch (or rewatch) the show:

It’s really, really, really funny. 

Flight of the Conchords is an unusual comedy in that they use music to their advantage, which they weave into the storylines. They give homage to a lot off of different artists and music styles that you might recognize, which 15-year-old Zoë, even with her diehard appreciation of 1960s music, did not catch in the slightest.

What makes it even funnier is that the Flight of the Conchords in the show is a really terrible band that can never come up with good material or get a break, while the real Flight of the Conchords are comedic and lyrical geniuses. There are a ton of jokes about New Zealand, living in New York and being musicians. It’s probably PG-13 since there are multiple references to sex throughout the series, but it’s the tamest of tame for HBO: teenagers will find it intriguing and like the songs, while adults will think it’s really great comedy. I think most of the one-liners and general storylines are funnier than say, most recent Saturday Night Live sketches or the kinds of sitcoms CBS seems to think are funny. I laughed a lot this time around, which I don’t really remember doing at 15.  I think I was just trying to soak the show in.

Everything about this show is musical and it is great.
Bret and Jemaine. 

If you picked out a random Flight of the Conchords song, you’d think that maybe it was a nonsensical or slightly weirder children’s song. Amongst many other great subjects, they make songs about being robots, speaking French and business time. In context (and even if you have watched the show and it comes up on iTunes shuffle), these songs are hysterical. For example, in the show the “Hiphopopotamus v. Rhymenoceros” song happens because Bret, who has decided he wants to be called the Hiphopopotamus, and Jermaine accidentally run into two street muggers who want to take their stuff.  A quasi rap battle ensues. The lyrics are fantastic and creative and I still love them.

Like, you can’t sit there and listen to “They call me the Hiphopopotamus / my lyrics are bottomless” followed my a lengthy silence and not think it’s funny. One of my favorite episodes is about David Bowie from different eras coming to visit Bret in his dreams (“David Bowie told me to do it in a dream” is FUNNY) with an accompanying song.

I don’t want to spoil the first song of the series for you, but just know you’ll get hooked.

You’ll recognize some of your favorite actors.

Kristen Schaal, who was on The Daily Show, plays the band’s only fan. Eugene Mirman, who voices Eugene in Bob’s Burgers, plays the landlord. Aziz Ansari plays a fruit vendor who is xenophobic towards New Zealanders. Jim Gaffigan shows up in an episode in the second season. David Costabile, who plays Gale in Breaking Bad, is Mel’s husband. Even Art Garfunkel has a cameo. Kristin Wiig, Patton Oswald, Lucy Lawless, Judah Friedlander and Sutton Foster are in it too. The point is that there are a lot of quality actors that come to hang out with Bret and Jemaine, so it’s not just a podunk show.

There’s actually some really interesting subtext to it that makes it excellent television.

You didn’t think you’d get through a Culture Connoisseur without some cultural analysis, did you? Watching it at 22 years old made me realize that there’s some really interesting themes that you could totally parse out as part of an analysis on comedy television: xenophobia, sexuality, race relations, and much more. Above the comedy of the situations Bret and Jemaine find themselves in, there’s even an entire conversation happening about whether or not the American dream of success is even accessible and attainable. So in one way, you’re watching a comedy about two dudes making funny songs. But in another, you’re watching two New Zealanders’ views on what America supposed to be and is. I think that is incredibly smart, which is why it is such a good show that you should watch.


I promise this is funny.
I promise this is funny.

You can buy a DVD of both seasons for less than $20, or if you have Amazon Prime (or presumably on HBO Go) you can stream it for free. You can even buy the music if you like it.

Have you seen Flight of the Conchords? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

3 responses to “Culture Connoisseur: Flight of the Conchords”

  1. One of my favourite shows. So happy they’re doing a movie. Have you seen What we do in the Shadows? or Eagle vs Shark?

    1. I haven’t! I need to though.

      1. They’re both great but especially ‘What we do in the Shadows.’ Ridiculously funny.

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