Music News

Flight of the Conchords: The Trick Is to Get on Their Good Side

Unfortunately, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement — the singing Kiwis who constitute Flight of the Conchords — weren't available for an interview in conjunction with their current tour. Nonetheless, I've spent some time imagining how my conversation with them might go. The key is to get on their good side . . .

Me: So, Bret and Jermaine. My sister married a guy from Australia. He sucks.

Bret and Jemaine: I'm sure he does. You seem like a really cool person.

Of course, in my mind, I'm talking to the low-key dudes who live in New York's Chinatown and bust their budget over the impulsive purchase of a new cup. It's difficult to divorce Bret and Jemaine the characters on their HBO series Flight of the Conchords from the "real" Bret and Jemaine, and I guess I'll never get that chance.

Over the course of two seasons, FOTC has chronicled the escapades of the two wide-eyed young men from New Zealand — one bearded, one bespectacled — who live together and play in a band. Their career is nonexistent (think gigs in elevators), their manager (Murray!) is incompetent, and they have only one fan, a borderline stalker with a paintbrush and an active imagination (played by The Daily Show's hilarious Kristen Schaal). The two are unlucky in love, low on street smarts, and really, really don't like Australians.

Oh, and they sing. The show has the soul of a modern-day musical. Mundane, everyday situations — spotting a beautiful girl at a party (so pretty she could be a part-time model, or an air hostess in the '60s) or sparring with a fruit vendor who refuses to serve them (because they're from New Zealand, obvs) — are catalysts for elaborate homespun musical numbers. McKenzie and Clement have an encyclopedic knowledge of pop genres and an astounding ability to adapt them. Some songs are pitch-perfect parody (like the recent "Same Girl," ripped from Usher and R. Kelly — only this "same girl" has a lazy eye and an epileptic dog) while others are more nuanced homages.

The show's DIY aesthetic is intensely charming — at moments it feels a bit like a Web series that tricked its way onto HBO (Albi, the racist dragon, I'm looking at you), which is no surprise considering that the FOTC concept got its start on BBC Radio. For a certain demographic — 20-somethings who love run-down neighborhoods, irony, and facial hair — there can even be a sensation that this show was made specifically for them.

That said, one of the most appealing things about the FOTC shtick is its complete lack of snark. The show is a welcome vacation from sarcastic hipster bullshit. Bret and Jemaine are naive, often silly, but they are also undeniably earnest and kind (except for when Jemaine tries to steal Bret's girls). The duo are decidedly uncool — they don't like to party and consider taking a nap together the height of good times — but, like your mom used to say, that somehow makes them even cooler.

As insider-ish as FOTC can feel, clips from the quirky little show have generated more than 3 million hits on YouTube — it can be almost upsetting to realize just how unoriginal your good taste is. This loyalty comes down to the show's essential charm: The viewers feel as though they've been invited to hang out in Bret and Jemaine's friendship — where people design bike helmets to imitate their hair and every girl that looks their way is a dream come true (as long as they don't try to pressure Bret into getting physical) — and it's a really fun place to be.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lee Stabert
Contact: Lee Stabert