A Family in Harmony

By ZOË WOLFF Published: June 17, 2007

What if you traded goombahs for goofballs and whack jobs for wacky musical numbers? You’d get something like “Flight of the Conchords,” the new series making its debut tonight as part of HBO’s now Sopranos-less Sunday night lineup.

Worlds away from New Jersey melodrama, the lighthearted show follows rock underdogs Bret and Jemaine — New Zealand’s “fourth most popular folk parody duo”— through downtown New York as they seek, but mostly fumble, shots at fame. They share a bedroom, compete for girls and break into spontaneous, hilarious song.

The show is not so loosely based on its creators, the comedian-musicians Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, whose acoustic banter and thrift-store stylings have earned a following on the comedy scene, a BBC Radio 2 series and now this prime time slot.

On Monday night, the two cavorted with a posse of Kiwis at the rooftop bar of the Delancey, a Lower East Side club. Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Clement are the bosses of what you might call the New Zealand mafia, indie-artist types with accents as thick as Tony & Company’s Joisey-ese but demeanors far more laid-back.

Loren Horsley, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie and Taika Waititi The NZ mafia?

The occasion was the after-party for the premiere of “Eagle vs Shark,” a losers-in-love story directed by another New Zealander, Taika Waititi. Mr. Clement has a starring role as a misanthropic, nunchuk-wielding doofus.

“Was there talk of you wearing the costumes tonight?” Mr. McKenzie wondered, a smirk punctuating his copious facial hair. By the costumes he meant the eagle and shark get-ups the lead characters don for a come-as-your-favorite-animal party in the film. Mr. Clement, in a shagadelic white blazer over a red button-down shirt, laughed off his mate.

Mr. McKenzie’s seemingly mock provocation continued: “A friend was very upset that you didn’t wear the eagle costume through the whole movie. He’s here now.”

Said friend would have to make do with the stand-ins roaming the club in said costumes.

“Those poor, sweaty interns,” mused Loren Horsley, a fresh-faced actress who plays Mr. Clements’s mousy girlfriend in the movie and is the real-life girlfriend of Mr. Waititi. The degrees of separation are even more minuscule. Mr. Waititi, Mr. Clement and Mr. McKenzie met at Victoria University of Wellington, where they performed sketch comedy together. The gang still lives in Wellington, though the Conchords have been in New York and Los Angeles working on their show, two episodes of which Mr. Waititi directed.

“The ones that look like Hal Ashby did them,” he said wryly.

“Don’t tell me — he dies?” Ms. Horsley prodded, motioning toward Mr. Clement.

“I get whacked,” Mr. Clement deadpanned. (He also admitted he hadn’t watched the finale of “The Sopranos.”)

Out of nowhere came a downpour, and they scrambled for cover. But the palm fronds and ferns scattered about the deck were no umbrellas. No matter.

Downstairs, the Phoenix Foundation, a New Zealand pop band that recorded the soundtrack for “Eagle vs Shark,” was kicking off its set. Mr. McKenzie began thrashing his fist in the air, rocking with abandon. Mr. Clement caught his eye — and caught the fever. The first rule of Flight club is, you don’t pass up an opportunity to make a delicious fool of yourself.

Taken from the NY Times

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