Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie aren't your typical TV buddies. Think of the brother/pals on CW's Supernatural or those boys on the run in ABC's Traveler. Those boys are determined, handsome, quick on their feet, and hold their own with the ladies. McKenzie looks like he brushed his hair with a pillow, while Clement has a determined hipster doofus look. And their track record with women? Well, their gaffs and frustrations are part of what drives their new HBO series, Flight of the Conchords. You could call it a sitcom except for one significant difference: It's funny. It could be their thick New Zealand accents or Clement's burry sideburns and thick glasses, but I think it's much more.
Billed as an "alternative comedy folk duo," the team has gathered a cult following with their wry humor, set to the dulcet chords of folk music. Clement and McKenzie first teamed up in 1998, performing as Moustache and Vested Interest, before changing their name to Flight of the Conchords (the name came to McKenzie in a dream). They released their first comedy album, Folk the World Tour, in 2002 while playing the comedy circuit. They were named the Best Alternative Comedy Act at the 2005 U.S. Comedy Festival, the year they made their first appearance on One Night Stand (HBO).
In their new series, Clement and McKenzie play friends and roommates newly arrived in New York, where they hope to shift their careers into high gear. In between tenuous gigs, they search for love, or, at the very least, someone to give them the time of day. And when the world becomes too complicated or strikes too close to the heart, they break into song. Yes, like an old-fashioned musical, they break into song, expressing the true depths of their tender little self-centered hearts. It sounds very stupid, and it would be if they weren't brilliant. Playing off a blend of hedonism, well-placed stabs at their narcissism, and clever yet simpleminded lyrics, the musical numbers are sidesplitting, probably because the songs are presented as low-rent, overwrought music videos instead of old-fashioned musical numbers.
Strangely, Clement and McKenzie are not cartoonish and manage to be empathetic. They are not inane as in Dumb and Dumber or appallingly narcissistic like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Their narcissism is tinged with naivete, making them both laughable and somewhat endearing from a distance. The distance from the TV screen to you sitting on the couch is just about right.
Flight of the Conchords premieres Sunday at 9:30pm following the fourth season premiere of Entourage (yes, already) on HBO.
Not quite as smart but good for some highly irreverent laughs is Lil' Bush. The animated half-hour (two 10-minute shorts) is a very adult-oriented series following the misadventures of Lil' George Bush and friends Lil' Condi, Lil' Rummy, and Lil' Cheney as they wreak havoc, learn stuff, and start wars. A running gag of the series is the unintelligible Lil' Cheney twisting off animal heads and sucking their blood. This is particularly sick and twisted but not as much as his coital encounter with a certain first lady and the resulting "trouble" she finds herself in. Oh, yes, this will offend someone.
Lil' Bush premiered Wednesday at 9:30pm on Comedy Central. Check local listings for additional airdates and times.
Other Premieres and Returns
The 4400 returns Sunday at 8pm on USA. Meadowlands premieres Sunday at 9pm on Showtime. The third season of The Closer premieres Monday at 8pm, followed by the series premiere of Heartland, both on TNT.
The Star Wars episode of Robot Chicken airs Sunday at 9pm on Adult Swim (the Cartoon Network). Fiercely protective of the Star Wars franchise, creator George Lucas has been known to behave unkindly toward alternative uses of the Star Wars characters and story. Fortunately for Robot Chicken creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich (Stoopid Monkey), Lucas is a fan. Besides giving his blessing, Lucas is voicing the animated likeness of himself for this special, created in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. Other voices include: Conan O'Brien, Seth MacFarlane, Robert Smigel, Donald Faison, Hulk Hogan, and Joey Fatone.
As always, stay tuned.