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June 14, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | June 14, 2007 |

This review will be looking at two new pay-cable shows, which means that there’s nothing here for those of you who, for whatever reason, don’t have the good fortune of having an HBO or Showtime subscription (although you can watch the premiere episode of both shows online for free — I’ve included links in each show’s write-up). Sorry folks, but you can’t please all the people all the time (something David Chase has surely learned this week).

“Flight of the Conchords.” In last week’s column about summer TV, I said that I thought this new show, which starts airing this Sunday night at 10:30 on HBO, looked “absolutely terrible from the clips and commercials I’ve seen.” Several people spoke up in defense of “Conchords,” calling the folk duo behind the show awesome and hilarious, declaring that they rock, etc. One commenter, Brook, even says she almost peed herself when she saw the duo perform a few years ago. So just as my readers often (rightfully or wrongfully) put some amount of trust in my opinions, I decided to put some trust in my readers opinions. And thus, I sat down with a very open mind to watch the premiere episode (available for viewing on the modern digital Mecca that is MySpace) and several YouTube clips of live performances.

And wouldn’t you know it, I’m in love — this New Zealand pair is, in fact, brilliant and hilarious.

…That’s probably the follow-up you were expecting from me but, unfortunately, that sentence is a complete and utter fabrication. I’m sorry to those people who love these guys, but I find the whole thing insufferable. Maybe it’s the first true signs of my age showing — this feels like the kind of thing cool hipsters are into, and maybe I’ve finally fallen into the generation gap, unable to appreciate a cool, hip thing. I spent a while trying to figure out what it was that didn’t work for me about this show, and I think I finally came down to this conclusion — it all just feels too manufactured for my tastes.

But let me digress for a second and tell you what the show is, you know, actually about. It exists in a quasi-reality state, focusing on Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, a pair of New Zealanders who have been performing as “Flight of the Conchords” for some number of years. They call themselves “New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk-parody duo,” appearing on stage with a pair of acoustic guitars and sprinkling various bits of (what many find) humorous dialogue between their funny-folk songs. In the show’s reality, the pair have recently moved to New York City, where they of course hope to make the leap to the Big Time. So far, however, they’ve had a canceled gig at an aquarium, they’ve got one stalkerish fan, and they’ve got a dubiously competent manager who makes Stephen Merchant’s “Extras” agent look like a rock star. Needless to say, the Big Time still eludes the Flight duo.

McKenzie and Clement both admittedly play exaggerations and caricatures of themselves, which is where my feeling of “manufactured” largely stems from. Now to be fair, I have nothing against this type of thing — it’s really the exact same m.o. followed by Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” for example. However, I am personally much more accepting and tolerant of manufactured douchebaggery than I am of manufactured weirdness and idiocy, which is where McKenzie and Clement take it. To be fair, I did laugh once or twice during the first episode. For example, while this line from McKenzie doesn’t quite work on the page, it was delivered brilliantly, forcing me to actually rewind the program so I could watch the moment again and record the dialogue: “What I was trying to say before is that after six or seven weeks, girls find me boring. But I’m not sure what happens, ‘cause that’s about how long it takes to get to know someone.” There were one or two other moments like this that gave me a tickle or a laugh. But far more often than not, I found myself just sort of staring at the screen, stuck in a mild stasis. At each bit of comedy, I could see exactly what they were doing and understand why others might find it funny, but it all just felt too forced and unnatural to me, to the point that I actually found myself getting annoyed with it all by the episode’s end.

And then there’s the music. The first time the duo progressed into a song, I laughed out loud, but not in a good “well isn’t that funny” way. It just felt ridiculous to me. Again, I get what they’re doing here, using the show as a platform for their songs and using the songs as a way to express their characters’ thoughts and feelings and desires. And the format would probably work better for me if (a) I was into the underlying show itself and (b) if I could get into the songs more. I’ve discussed the first point already. As for the second, it’s not that I think the songs are bad. From a musical standpoint, they’re perfectly fine, although folk music just isn’t my cup of tea. And as for the lyrics and the humor, again, it’s just a bit to “wacky” and manufactured for my taste. A line like “you’re so beautiful, like a tree or a high class prostitute” simply isn’t any funnier to me because it’s being sung rather than stated.

Usually, when I form my opinion on something, particular with regards to television and/or comedy, I’m quick to belittle those who disagree with me, calling them “fucking idiots” or “insufferable monkeys” (please see Monday’s masturbatory “Sopranos”/”John from Cincinatti” column for my most recent example, as well as the love I got from some of the said idiots and monkeys). But this is going to be one of those rare times when I will not do this. I can’t say that, objectively, “Flight of the Conchords” isn’t funny. Nor can I say that it’s a waste of your time. I just can’t do that because, obviously, there are plenty of people out there who truly enjoy and appreciate the humor and songs of Bret and Jemaine. So the best I can tell you is to give it a shot — some of you will dig it, and some of you won’t, and that’s that.

“Meadowlands.” Meanwhile, Showtime also premieres a new show this Sunday night, at 10 p.m. I knew almost nothing about this show going into the first episode (which you can watch for yourself on Showtime’s website - the password is “secret”), aside from the fact that it was about a family which is put into the witness protection program and is relocated to New Jersey. However, I quickly realized that I didn’t know they were relocated to New Jersey; I just assumed this fact from the show’s title (because the Meadowlands is an area in North Jersey, and also the nickname of Giants Stadium, where the Giants and Jets play that football thing). During the opening scene of the show, the camera pulls back to show the community which the Brogan family has just moved into and I thought to myself, “self — that looks more like an English village than a Jersey town.” And then the opening credits kicked in and I thought to myself, “self — these credits really look and feel like BBC credits.” And it turns out that “Meadowlands” is set in an English village (named Meadowlands), and while I don’t think the BBC is actually connected to the show’s production, it does have a very BBC-esque aesthetic (particularly the use of little vignettes to simply set a mood or share a quick piece of information).

Anyway, we quickly learn that this little village isn’t all that it appears. There are a lot of weird and bizarre people populating this hamlet, and the Brogan family quickly begins to figure this out for themselves. We get one answer to what’s going on by the episode’s end, but there’s clearly more to it all which, which you assume will be explored and explained as the show goes on. But like many similar shows, the focus here is really the Brogan family itself and, unsurprisingly, they’re not entirely at peace with this new life. The relocation has put quite a strain on the relationship of Danny and Evelyn, in no small part because Evelyn (rightfully so, from what we’ve seen so far) blames Danny for putting the family in this unfortunate new situation. Meanwhile, daughter Zoe is more-or-less taking to this new situation rather well (and I gotta say I was quite relieved to learn that Felicity Jones is 23, not sharing Zoe’s age of 17, because she’s quite hot and I shouldn’t have nasty thoughts about minors). Zoe’s twin brother Mark, however, has been physically and emotionally damaged from some of the things that led the family into this situation, and he’s withdrawn himself considerably as a result, even refusing to speak (although he and Zoe have “a spooky twin thing” which allows her to speak on his behalf now and then).

It’s hard to really say much more about the show at this point, as not a lot really happened during the first show. We were given a good feel for the show’s overall tone, which is rather dark and murky. And we were introduced to some of the other folks who live in Meadowlands, and given a chance to see some of the relationship between them. We also got to see a bit of brutality during a midnight football (i.e., soccer) match, showing us how some of the villagers are kept in line. So far, however, I really like what I’ve seen — it’s not overly compelling, nor does it appear that it’s going to make itself into a great drama. But at first blush, it appears to be more than serviceable enough (and for me, it’s helped by the fact that I quite like the British aesthetic to it). This will surely not be everyone’s cup of tea, so I’m really left with the same advice as with “Flight.” The best I can tell you is to give it a shot — some of you will dig it, and some of you won’t, and that’s that.

Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. At the time of this review’s publication, he’s probably still under the knife for his bloody (both figurative and literal) back microsurgery. He hopes that, when he comes to, a doctor tells him that they’ve used their technology to make him better, stronger, faster. “The Six Million Dollar TV Whore” has a nice ring to it.

Folkin the Suburbs

"Flight of the Conchords" and "Meadowlands" / The TV Whore
June 14, 2007

TV | June 14, 2007 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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