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the early word

HBO's ‘Flight of the Conchords’: Kiwi Comedy at Its Most Deadpan

From left, Bret, Jemaine, and manager Dave practice their deadpan-death-stares. Courtesy of HBO

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Title: Flight of the Conchords

Stars: Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie

Network: HBO, Sundays at 10:30 (debuting June 17)

The pitch: A musical skit-com from two goofy, good-natured Kiwis searching the East Village for love and paid musical gigs.

Pilot report: More or less playing themselves — a couple of culturally naïve freak-folk musicians fresh off the boat from New Zealand — Jemaine and Bret put the “dead” in “deadpan,” ripping through conversations with barely a quaver of human emotion. (Much funnier than it sounds.) Jemaine hits on Bret’s ex-girlfriend at a party, and Bret doesn’t get mad. Bret interrupts Jemaine’s make-out session with the ex, and Jemaine barely registers. Make sense? No, but hey, they’re foreign! The dialogue’s sharp even when the setups — a guy selling a cake in a pawnshop, an agent trying to book the boys a show at an aquarium — become patently ridiculous.

Representative dialogue:

Jemaine: “ Man, back in New Zealand, I was getting it on with lots of chicks.”
Bret: “Who?”
Jemaine: “Sarah Fitzpatrick. Michelle Fitzpatrick. Claire Fitzpatrick. The list goes on.”
Bret: “That was all of them.”
Jemaine: “Well, triple figures.”

Breakout star: Jemaine and Bret share top billing and screen time, but in the pilot, it’s the weirdo groupie chick Mel (played by Human Giant writer Kristen Schaal) who steals scenes. Despite being married, she wears silk-screened Bret T-shirts and keeps a photo of Jemaine’s lips in her wallet.

Worth a season pass?: Doing anything better on Sundays at 10:30? Neither are we. Plus the show’s a welcome relief from the crippling smugness that has overtaken Entourage. —Jon Steinberg