Tuned In

Flight of the Conchords: You Are the Critic!

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HBO has put the entire first episode of its new comedy series, Flight of the Conchords, online at MySpace. [Update: it’s also at hbo.com, but oddly, with fewer bells and whistles.] The premise: “New Zealand’s fourth most-popular folk parody duo” seek success and cheap dates on New York’s Lower East Side. Give it a half-hour of your time and then let’s discuss.

[Waits. Drums fingers on desktop. Finds a pile of unopened mail and sorts it. Files receipts for expense report. Goes to get an iced coffee. Checks e-mail. Looks at watch…]

OK! Funny, or what? Based on the premise and the enigmatic promos, I had absolutely no expectations for this show. But it had me from the first musical number, “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room,” which had me thinking that somebody must have listened to Beck’s Debra once or twice. (“I want to get with you/ Only you/ And your sister/ I think her name’s Debra”) Like Beck’s song, the Conchords number works because it’s not only funny–“I can’t believe/ That I’m sharing a kebab with the most beautiful girl I have ever seen/ With a kebab”–but it’s actually a pretty great slow-burn funk ballad. It’s a song Prince would have written, if Prince ever had to settle for more-attainable women.

In fact, the only thing that worried me about this pilot episode is that it might be too good. A lot of pilots from comedians and comedy acts manage to blow through every good idea the performer has had in the first episode, and then the remaining ones sit there limp like Michigan J. Frog failing to sing “Hello My Ragtime Gal.”

But HBO sent me three more episodes of the show–see, there is still an advantage to being a pro TV critic–and they hold up. It’s slacker comedy at its finest: the duo scrounge and cadge their way through menial jobs and piddling gigs, abetted by a sleazy manager (who runs their career part-time during his day job at a New Zealand cultural center) and their fan base, which consists of one terrifyingly obsessed, married neighbor. The song parodies are brilliant, ranging from Marvin Gaye soul to Pet Shop Boys ’80s rap. And, of course, robot rock operas:

It’s an underachiever’s Entourage. If you watched the clip and disagree, tell me why. And if you haven’t, go now! Fly like Conchords!