In addition to using the summer as a reality TV launch pad, networks like to loosen their neckties a little bit and offer a few risky new series. And what could be dicier than a half-hour musical comedy? Anybody remember Cop Rock, which briefly landed über-producer Steven Bochco in TV jail?
Well, it turns out Flight Of The Conchords just may redeem this very tiny TV subgenre. Part Tenacious D, part The Office, part A Mighty Wind, it's a made-up series about very real Kiwi digi-folksingers - New Zealand's fourth-most-popular folk parody duo, to be precise - trying to make a name for themselves in New York City.
It stars Bret McKenzie (think Sam Roberts with drier wit) and Jemaine Clement (think a floppier Elvis Costello with funkier rhythm), Edinburgh Fringe Festival standouts who released the live album Folk The World Tour a few years back. They play versions of themselves, best buds Bret and Jemaine, a would-be Simon and Garfunkel (the Smothers Brothers might be more accurate, given their comedic leanings) who randomly break into song between their awkward yet witty slacker banter.
Some of the songs are kind of gimmicky - lyrics about robot takeovers, for example (it worked for The Flaming Lips). But most are slyly satirical songs about whatever mundane melodrama is playing out in their heads: the girl at the party who's hot enough "to be a waitress or a part-time model," say.
The music acts as the characters' internal monologue, complete with backup vocals and a drumbeat.
And it works. That McKenzie and Clement are talented singer/songwriters helps. They may bill themselves as a folk duo, but their music shows the obvious funk, soul and R&B influences of Prince and James Brown, with a little Bob Dylan to granola it up a bit.
It also helps that the songs are played for laughs. They're not singing about being a Shark or a Jet and expecting you to take them seriously. They know just how ridiculous suddenly breaking into song is, and they take the opportunity to take a few clever jabs at music videos specifically and the music industry in general.
The duo's inability to land a paying gig is one ongoing gag kept afloat by their ineffective manager, Murray (scene-stealer Rhys Darby), who also works in middle management for the New Zealand consulate when he's not shooting their music videos on his cellphone camera.
"Quirky" and "offbeat" are the first two adjectives that come to mind when watching the show - followed by "strange," "funny," "unique" and "funny."
If the whole thing seems a bit unambitious, it's in keeping with the slacker attitude of the two main characters, which is kind of the point.
What to watch this week
SATURDAY, JUNE 16
LITTLE BRITAIN (sketch comedy) Starting Saturday, BBC Canada is offering up a free weekend to cable subscribers, and the late-night marathon of this oddball soon-to-be classic is among the highlights (Saturday starting at 1 am). Also on the schedule is an Ab Fab marathon (Sunday starting at 9 pm) and a 20 Quickest Ways To Make Money On Your House marathon (Saturday starting at 4 pm).
The free preview is available to Rogers subscribers on channel 59 and to digital subscribers on channels 1 and 59.