Flight of the Conchords rode onto HBO’s Sunday-night lineup on a white unicorn of comedy-scenester goodwill: The titular New Zealand folk-comedy duo’s live performances were famously hilarious, and the show’s cast included such beloved purveyors of below–14th Street–style japery as Eugene Mirman and Kristen Schaal. After last night's episode, the fifth, Lindsay Robertson and Ben Mathis-Lilley discussed whether the show has lived up to the hype. (Lindsay says yes, Ben says no.) Theories were challenged, favorite lines exchanged, punctuation inserted retroactively, and in the end, everybody learned a valuable lesson.
Lindsay: So, Flight of the Conchords is the best show on TV right now. Unfortunately, last night's was the worst episode!
Ben: Right to the qualifying statements and excuse-making. I assume that by “on TV right now” you mean “not on summer break”? Because it's clearly inferior to (at least) 30 Rock, The Office, and that Discovery Channel show about crab fishermen.
Lindsay: 30 Rock is, of course, the very best uncanceled show. But I would actually tie FOTC with The Office, if you take away the “everyone will be talking about it tomorrow and I need to keep up” factor.
Ben: Not a factor to be underestimated! If you don’t have anything to say to your friends about television shows, you’re going to end up staring blankly at people for long periods. Like all the characters in Flight of the Conchords!
Lindsay: It’s not for everyone. In order to get parody you have to know the original reference. So like, someone who has never seen a Pet Shop Boys video isn't going to get that parody, and the musical parodies are the best part of the show
Ben: (For those who haven’t seen the show, it’s about two guys from New Zealand who live downtown and have a perennially unsuccessful two-man band. During each show they get involved in some sort of sitcom-ish plot and periodically break into a music video.)
Lindsay: It’s much more subtle and bizarre than a sitcom. I watch each show two or three times, and I notice new funny stuff every time. Like, every episode has a T-shirt element. When Jemaine gets out of jail, Mel [Kristen Schaal, playing the band’s only fan] greets the guys wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Jemaine behind bars on it.
Lindsay: I love the peripheral characters, like Arj Barker, Eugene Mirman, and Kristen Schaal. Eugene is poised to be Hollywood’s next go-to weird-looking creepy guy. The next Vincent Schiavelli.
Ben: That brings me to one of my main complaints … how can you say those are peripheral characters? Eugene Mirman and Arj Barker have had like four lines all season.
Lindsay: But one of them was, “This reminds me of when I saw a puppy being born, just seeing that little puppy come out of that dog's pussy was so beautiful.” And you have to agree that Kristen Schaal as Mel, the band's one fan, is hilarious.
Ben: I was expecting you to say that! One-note funny characters are great … but you have to have MORE THAN FOUR OF THEM IN A SHOW!!! Especially when your stars are both dry straight men and there is no plot. Or at least, the plot of every episode is the same: One of the guys has a [job/girlfriend], the other is jealous. Murray, the manager, takes “attendance” at band meetings, and it turns out there's only three people at the meeting! Hey, there’s Kristen Schaal showing up! Book it, next show!
Lindsay: You’re focusing on the wrong thing. I love the show because it does dead-on parodies of things that are familiar to me: cheesy videos, hipsters dating each other, the Lower East Side. Last night someone mentioned an article they’d read in the East Village News. And I'm consistently surprised by the brilliance of the songs. Like: "Other rappers dis me / Say my rhymes are sissy / Why? What? Why exactly?/ Be more constructive with your feedback, please."
Ben: Okay, that’s true. I also enjoyed: "My rhymes and records they don’t get played / Because my records and rhymes they don’t get made / And if you rap like me you don’t get paid / And if you roll like me you don’t get laid."
Lindsay: “We're gonna boom boom boom till the break of boom."
Ben: "I want to tell her how hot she is / But she’ll think I’m being sexist / She’s so hot she’s making me sexist / Bitch."
Lindsay: I like the sense that you have to be smart to get that stuff, and maybe watch it a few times. I don’t see them having any meetings where an HBO exec is like ‘This won't play in Kansas, make it dumber’ like they would have at other networks.
Ben: I agree that the videos and the parodic details are great. But if that’s what you’re focused on, why take the opportunity to spend HBO money on a show where you can be as downtown-y as you want, and then make 50 percent of the show forgettable plot-action scenes which are basically Web video with a nicer camera?
Lindsay: Well, like everything, it really all depends on expectations. Is it as good as Curb Your Enthusiasm? No, not yet. Is it the funniest show we can watch on TV this summer? Yes, absolutely, even if the parts between the music videos aren’t always great.
Ben: But why not go all out on the parts between the videos? Especially at a time when shows like Arrested Development and 30 Rock have reminded people that you can make comedies that involve complicated staging and demanding more out of your actors than talking in a humorously awkward manner and occasionally delivering a one-liner.
Lindsay: We just have different expectations. I think that if a show is smart and subtle and makes me laugh consistently, it’s in the top one percent, even if it isn't perfect.
Ben: Is it better than Lucky Louie?
Lindsay: Louis C.K. is a genius but blue-collar people don't have to have gross dirty walls. I grew up in a blue-collar family. We could afford paint. Paint is cheap.