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HTF DVD Review: FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS, The Complete Second Season
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Posted August 20 2009 - 03:55 AM
Flight of the Conchords
The Complete Second Season
Studio: HBO Home Entertainment
Film Length: app. 300 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 (enhanced for 16:9)
Audio: English DD 5.1; Spanish DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Package: Keepcase with plastic cover bearing unique artwork
Original Airdates: Jan. 18-Mar. 22, 2006
DVD Release Date: Aug. 4, 2009
Before HBO became obsessed with The Next Big Thing, it was home to quirky series with a small but devoted fan base, series like Dream On and Not Necessarily the News. When the success of The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Six Feet Under created the monster of “It’s Not TV, It’s HBO!”, those kinds of shows disappeared, replaced by high-concept offerings that could be endlessly plugged with an easy hook. (Think of the marketing campaign for the latest comedy series, Hung, about a guy who is, well, hung.) And that’s why Flight of the Conchords, the second and final season of which is now available on DVD, is such a refreshing throwback. The show defies easy description. You just have to watch it. Its uniquely goofy vibe either grabs you, or it doesn’t.
A quick introduction for the uninitiated. The Flight of the Conchords is a New Zealand musical comedy duo made up of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, who are both talented musicians and very funny in front of crowds. The closest American equivalent I can think of (and it’s a stretch) is the Smothers Brothers. After success at various comedy festivals and a well-received radio show for the BBC, the two appeared on a comedy special for HBO. Then they combined with writer/director James Bobin to develop a television show.
In the show Bret and Jemaine play alternate versions of themselves. They’ve moved to New York, seeking fame and fortune in America, but after a year or so, nothing is happening for them. They share a cheap apartment in Chinatown, pass their days having useless meetings with their inept manager Murray (the incomparable Rhys Darby), whose real job is at the New Zealand consulate, or hanging out with their friend Dave (Arj Barker), who runs a pawn shop and has managed to convince both Bret and Jemaine that he’s supremely cool (he isn’t). They’ve acquired a total of one (1) fan, the stalker-like Mel (Kristen Schaal), who, despite having a husband (David Constabile), can barely conceal her sexual designs on Bret and Jemaine (she’ll take either or both).
The plot of an episode is usually driven by something trivial: for example, Brett buying a new cup, which overextends the monthly budget by $2.79, triggering an overdraft and a cascade of accumulating fees and penalties; or Brett and Jemaine trying to date the same girl (SNL’s Kristen Wiig); or Murray deciding that it’s time that he and his clients became more than just professional associates; or Bret and Jemaine getting addicted to hair gel in a futile attempt to look “cool”. At various points, when no other form of expression is sufficient, characters burst into song, and the scene shifts to whatever might be suited to the tune; if the immediate surroundings won’t do, we may be suddenly dropped into a music video or a disco or Broadway dance number. The Conchords, who write all their own music, have an uncanny ear for musical styles, whether it’s rap, soul or specific artists like Billy Joel or the Pet Shop Boys. It’s often hard to decide which is funnier, the outrageous musical numbers or the prosaic reality with which they’re contrasted.
The first season had twelves episodes; the second has only ten. There are a few other differences in the second season. First, the comedy is looser and goofier. Where the first season relied more heavily on deadpan humor and offbeat timing, the second season shows a greater willingness to use outrageous characters like the New Zealand Prime Minister who shows up in episode 7 or the Australian girlfriend (Sarah Wynter, using her native accent for once) who Jemaine dates in episode 5, shocking all of his Kiwi friends in the process.
The second difference is that Bret and Jemaine aren’t the only ones whose vocals are showcased. In the very first episode, Murray is given a full-on mournful ballad when he feels mistreated by Brett and Jemaine. It’s one of the many highlights of one of the season’s best episodes. Look for vocals from Mel and Dave before the season ends.
The image for these episodes is solid and serviceable, with good detail and decent black levels. There is a noticeable but not intrusive amount of video noise consistent with NTSC levels of resolution. In most scenes, Conchords has an everyday, documentary look consistent with the banal lives that Brett and Jemaine lead. Musical interludes tend to be more stylized and fantastical, and the image gets brighter and often more detailed.
Unlike the first season, the second season was shown on HBO in high definition, and I still have a few episodes on my HD TiVo. Comparing those recordings to this DVD, it’s apparent that the episodes would benefit from release on Blu-ray, because hi-def lends the image an additional degree of sharpness and detail that makes the Conchords’ world feel even more immediate and lived-in. But these DVD versions do a more than adequate job, and I doubt that HBO will be issuing the series on Blu-ray anytime soon.
The DD 5.1 track is clean and detailed. The mix tends to be front-centered, except for the music, which is extremely active, both left to right and in the surround channels. It’s an entertaining mix that is delivered at a higher resolution on these DVDs than it was on broadcast.
I consider the packaging a special feature. The two-disc keepcase is transparent, with the episode listings printed on the reverse side of the jacket, so that they’re only visible when the case is open. The case comes with a transparent slipcover on which Brett and Jermaine are featured, arms outstretched, each holding a guitar. When the slipcover is inserted over the keepcase, the two band members are inserted, in flight, over the skyline of New York City, right beneath the legend “Born to Folk”.
All of the video special features are enhanced for 16:9.
Episode previews. In the usual fashion of HBO discs, each episode appears on a menu accompanied by the preview that ran the week before.
“Flight of the Conchords: On-Air” (25:01). An entertaining documentary on the origins of the show, featuring interviews with both Conchords, as well as James Bobin (the show’s British co-creator and frequent co-writer and director), Rhys Darby (a/k/a “Murray”) and Kristen Schaal (a/k/a sole fan “Mel”).
Deleted scenes (25:03). Although not specifically identified, these scenes are easy to associate with the episodes from which they were lifted, and there’s something from almost every episode. While some of them may have been deemed a little over-the-top, I suspect most were deleted for pacing and running time. Most are quite good, including what I believe is the longest scene in the series between psycho Mel and her long-suffering husband.
Outtakes (7:06). It comes as no surprise that keeping a straight face for deadpan humor is hard work.
“Dave’s Pawn Shop” commercials (3:05). Dave is every bit as crass and self-confident in these ads as he is with our heroes. But if I saw these ads on late-night local TV, I might actually think they were for real.
“New Zealand Consulate Meetings with Murray and Greg” (3:34). More of the usual from our man Murray and his favorite consular co-worker.
Hidden Easter Egg. This is nowhere advertised on the disc, but the publicity materials mention it. It’s on the special features menu and easy enough to find. It relates to episode 1, and that’s all I’ll say.
Flight of the Conchords is not deep, thought-provoking or profound. It is, however, extremely funny, and, as I can confirm after watching the episodes a second time for this review, the show gets funnier on repeat viewings. The extras on this set make it an excellent value, for both fans and neophytes.
Equipment used for this review:
Denon 955 DVD player
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Velodyne HGS-10 sub