Afair number, if not the bulk, of the plotlines and songs from the first season of HBO’s sleeper hit Flight of the Conchords were pulled from the eponymous duo’s BBC radio series and stage show (the songs were then churned out yet again for an EP and full-length album on Sub Pop last year). So the arrival of a new season of the series will mark an end to wondering whether or not the titular Kiwis (played by Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie) have more to their act than the glorious “Albi the Racist Dragon” and “Robots (The Humans Are Dead).” For devotees, both obsessive and otherwise, the second season will seem well worth the wait, as Conchords continues, against all odds and expectations, to make the show’s mélange of Wes Anderson-infused visuals and Office-style deadpan feel remarkably fresh.
Of course, the Conchords approach differs from Anderson’s films and Ricky Gervais’s masterpiece when it ventures into the Conchords’s elaborate fantasy sequences, where visions of music videos dance in their heads. The season premiere’s jingle for a women-only toothpaste (called Femident, natch) seems to have already become a fan fave, and Clement’s mash-up of the filthy and the adorable with a sleazy hip-hop ode to his package, “Sugarlumps,” in the second episode will probably be loved as much as the first season’s “Business Time.” For my money, though, the best tune so far is not sung by the group at all, but by their cheerfully pathetic and woebegone manager Murray (Rhys Darby), who operatically bellows “Rejected” at the New York skyline with a surprising—and surprisingly effective—straight-forwardness.
If there is a fault to the Conchords’s songs, it’s that they tend to drift a little too far into Weird Al-style parody. Last season’s dead-on homage to the Pet Shop Boys, “Inner City Pressure,” was a delight because, well, the world had been crying out for a Pet Shop Boys spoof—whether it knew it or not. But a British reggae jam from the second episode of this season that urges Clement not to become a prostitute sounds more or less exactly like the Police’s “Roxanne.” Like a West Side Story spoof called “Stay Cool, Bret” that pops up in the third episode, it’s too obvious.
And the group’s songs are never quite as funny as the moments of quiet lunacy that these perpetually poker-faced country mice stumble into episode after episode. Take the second episode, “The New Cup,” in which McKenzie’s purchase of a teacup for $2.79 manages to completely bankrupt the band. Clement’s turning to prostitution leads to an inevitable Midnight Cowboy spoof that, despite recalling similar episodes of Seinfeld, American Dad, and Futurama, still brings the laughs. But the episode’s truly sidesplitting moment is not when Clement-the-whore explains his rules to a Jane (“No laughing”), but when he describes the “Cup Roster” to McKenzie: “I use it from 11 till one, then you use it from one till three. Then we give the cup a rest.”
The duo’s knack for a peculiarly modest zaniness is shared with the brilliant supporting cast: Darby’s Murray is like David Brent without the ill will, intrepidly sticking to protocol even when he’s living out of his car, and Kristen Schaal continues to delight as Mel, the group’s sole fan/stalker. Guest stars drop by, but like with last season’s appearances by Todd Barry and Aziz Ansari, the cameos are refreshingly B-list and low-key. Seymour Cassel and Greg Proops are not going to steal the show from Clement and McKenzie’s Keaton-esque blank faces. As it is in rock n’ roll, so it is in comedy: Quiet is the new loud.