I take a look at the almost award-winning fourth-most-popular folk duo in New Zealand’s show
For totally arbitrary reasons, we decided that this week was Flight of the Conchords Week. And what better way to finish that week than with a countdown of my favourite episodes?
Flight Of The Conchords is based around the fictional exploits of Flight Of The Conchords. In real life, they are a highly popular duo who mix parody and comedy songs, having traveled the world, and gone from Edinburgh Festival to BBC Radio series to HBO Live Special and then their own TV show. But in the show, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie play Jemaine and Brett, two unsuccessful musicians in New York in a band called Flight Of The Conchords (and briefly The Original Flight Of The Conchords).
The first season was based around their existing songs (sometimes shoehorned in to the narrative), whereas the second developed the supporting characters and featured almost exclusively new materiel, with only the occasional bit of shoehorning. Rhys Darby (star of the excellent Short Poppies) plays their manager Murray, and Kristen Schaal (The Last Man On Earth among many other) is their obsessive (and only) fan. It was also co-created by James Bobin, writer and director of The Muppets and its sequel, which also saw him reunite with Bret (as music supervisor) and Jemaine (a prisoner in the gulag in the second film). Of course, since the show Jemaine Clement has been in Hollywood films since (Boris in Men In Black 3, Rio, The BFG) and Bret won an Oscar for Man Or Muppet, so maybe a long gestated movie will one day see light of day, and we can once again bask in the Conchords glory.
As ever, this list is my personal one based on nothing more than gut feeling and my own preference. I know that I have missed a lot of really good episodes, and great songs (Carole Brown is fantastic, and that episode was directed by Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but it doesn’t make my list), but there are only 22 episodes, so unlike my It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia list, I decided to be strict and keep it down to 5 . Although, I did just mention another one there. And three more in the actual list…
Enough yakking, on with the list.
5. “Love Is A Weapon Of Choice” (Season 2, Episode 6)
Bret and Jemaine both fall for the same woman.
When the boys are out jogging, they meet the excellently named Brahbrah (a great joke in itself) played by Kristen Wiig. One R. Kelly inspired love song later (Both In Love With A Sexy Lady) and the rivalry is on. Both go on dates with her and start writing her a song.
Brahbrah has lost her epileptic dog, so the Conchords arrange a concert to raise awareness. Their dance remix sets off a series of dog seizures, but despite that, Brahbrah is still interested… in Bret (an incredulous Jemaine points to his bandmate and says “that’s Bret there” when she chooses him of the two). Plus there’s a great last line, which ties up the episode nicely.
Three good songs (a duel leads to a song named after the episode) and a really funny performance from Wiig puts this on my list.
4. “The Actor” (Season 1, Episode 11)
After a particularly bad run, the Conchords decide to cheer up Murray with the help of an actor.
It’s strange that the first two episodes on this list have both got big name guest stars. Here Will Forte joins the list that includes Aziz Ansari, Alan Dale, Lucy Lawless, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and the great Art Garfunkel. There have also been comedians like Greg Proops, Jim Gaffigan, John Hodgson, Patton Oswalt, and Demetri Martin involved. But anyway, this episode has a great performance from Forte as a dry cleaner called Ben who sees a Conchords gig (he is the only one there) and is impressed by the comedy characters he assumes they are.
Ben is a semi-professional actor, so Bret and Jemaine hire him to pretend to be a record executive and respond to some of Murray’s constant letters to record companies. Ben, or more accurately his character Stefan, gets carried away on the phone though and offers them a record deal, leading to Murray splashing out on a new “Lord Of The Rings” video and a special launch party. And all because they wanted to Cheer Up Murray.
Written by Iain Morris and Damon Beelsey (who also wrote The Inbetweeners) this is a great piece of episodic TV, with probably the best credit sequence, as we see that Ben has been cast in a real movie, as he stars alongside JOHN TURTURRO (who actually turns up!) in Martin Scorsese’ Dry Cleaner.
3. “NewZealandTown” (Season 2, Episode 8)
When they find a new level of cool, the consulate hire the Conchords to play at the opening of New Zealand Town.
This episode is pretty much a sequel to very good “Prime Minister” episode, which saw Brian (the New Zealand Prime Minister) come over to New York for a meeting with Preisident Obama, only for Murray to have to hire a lookalike instead.
Written and directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows and the upcoming Thor: Ragnorak), this sees Bret and Jemaine become super cool when Murray gives them some hair gel. This leads to them being hired to play at the opening of New Zealand Town, an idea the Prime Minister has developed with head of tourism Paula (Xena herself, Lucy Lawless).
Surprisingly, there’s only one song in this episode, but it’s a cracker, an excellent New Wave pastiche called Fashion Is Danger. One of the reasons I like this episode so much is that ther just enough of a development of the supporting cast, and probably the best usage of Rhys Darby (both him and Kristen Schaal have more moments to shine in the second season) but also gives the band a great story.
And if anyone has a problem with me rating this too high, I say simply this: forget it, dear reader, it’s Snooty Usher town.
2. “A New Cup” (Season 2, Episode 2)
The Conchords are in dire financial straits when Bret decides to buy a second cup.
Bret is sick of having to use a cup rota, so he buys a second cup. Unfortunately, their phone bill is then $2.79 short, which causes their gas and electricity to be cut off. This leads to them having to pawn their guitars, and playing a gig with no instruments, although Mel still dances along to The Humans Are Dead. We then have Murray’s excellent Flight of the Nochords article – he gave them 2 stars out of a hundred, but his advise is to “tell people it is out of 5”
After a failed attempt by Bret at selling superstraws, this naturally leads to them becoming prostitutes (when asked about his sexual prowess Bret admits “that was just ’cause you asked me in front of Sally”, a call back to the very first episode) until Murray’s investment with a Nigerian business man he met online actually pays off.
On the whole, I think the second season had better scripts than the first, and the call backs (Sugalumps includes a reappearance of Bret’s Party Prince from the acid trip in the brilliant “New Fans” episode, which was also written by Duncan Sarkies) make this one of my favourites. The sheer ridiculousness of these two characters being prostitutes (Jemaine’s reputation as a ladies man is all in his head, Bret only giving hugs until he builds up his confidence) is probably only matched when they switch and Bret tries to be a pimp (“I’m walking here”)
Two of the best parody songs – Sugarlumps is based on The Black Eyed Peas’Humps & You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute on The Police’s Roxanne – and a really funny story gets this such a high position. In fact, there’s just one better.
1. “Mugging” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Bret and Jemaine’s friendship is put to the test when they encounter crime in New York City.
And so we come to number 1. For me, the best combination of songs and story. Introducing the rap alter-egos of the Conchords – the Rhymenocerous and the Hiphopopotamus – leads into one of my absolute favourite songs, when they are mugged by two criminals. Bret leaves Jemaine behind as they are running away, causing a big division in the friendship, but the criminals also fall out, leading to Jemaine hanging out with his mugger. When Bret goes to get Jemaine’s camera phone back, they all reconcile, especially after they all Think About It.
But it’s the little touches that really put the episode over the top for me. Jemaine’s camera phone is a camera and a phone taped together, and it isn’t quite as important to him as Bret thinks. Despite Murray’s best efforts to keep them safe, New Zealanders end up in hospital. And of crourse, the monkey. Two top notch songs and a really funny story. A worthy number 1 I reckon.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know which of your favourites I’ve missed out, but keep it civil, lets not see any of this…
And remember, even Snooty Ushers have feelings:
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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