The new series of ‘Flight Of The Conchords’, the first episode of which airs tonight on BBC4, has drawn some pretty guarded reviews. Critics are miffed about the lack of goofy parody songs in the vein of ‘Business Time’ or ‘Inner City Pressure’. Instead, the new episodes are more plot- and dialogue-driven, less reliant on the Kiwi comedy duo’s pre-existing live material.
Good news, I say. Those who regard Flight… as a zany spoof music act on a par with The Mighty Boosh or (shudder) The Lonely Island are missing the point. Their TV show is far more subtle than that. It’s character comedy, masterfully scripted, and gripped by that strain of quiet, gnawing sadness that underpins all truly great sit-coms, from ‘…Reginald Perrin’ to ‘The Office’.
Strip away the guyliner and the canny marketing and The Mighty Boosh are essentially a pair of crudely-drawn grotesques. Their interplay has only one setting: pompous jazzbo gets exasperated by preening narcissist, repeat to fade. Jemaine and Bret, on the other hand, have a complex relationship. They are simultaneously reliant on, yet suspicious of, each other. Unlike the Boosh, they also inspire pity.
Think of their predicament. Two wide-eyed boy-men, marooned in a foreign city, penniless, cut off from friends and family (if they ever had any), utterly baffled by the advances of women. But their hopelessness rings true. The show’s downbeat atmosphere captures what life in a band is really like, I suspect, for the vast majority of wannabe musicians – the half-empty halls, the record deals that never quite materialise, the constant background hum of low-level humiliation. Just ask Joe Lean.
And then there’s their manager, Murray. It’s Murray, I think, who elevates ‘…Conchords’ to the all-time top tier of sit-coms. He is the show’s true star, a wonderful comic creation. The reason Bret and Jemaine are never entirely tragic figures is that deep down they know their music is rubbish, and that they’ll never go anywhere. That’s not true with Murray. He truly believes. And he has nothing else in his life.
There’s a great scene in season one when Bret gets the hump with Murray, prompting his hapless manager – whose wife keeps leaving him – to list all his own character faults. “Is it because I keep coming over when I’m sad?” he asks, with a desperate self-knowledge that breaks your heart. It’s hard to imagine any other current comedy troupe coming up with quite such a poignant set-piece.
If the new series features a few more moments like that, at the expense of a few wacky dance routines, it can only be a good thing.