USA Today

The Conchords take 'Flight' with new series and spoofs

By Susan Wloszczyna - June 14 2007

They come from a land down under. No, not Australia. New Zealand. (You know, those two tiny lumps over to the right that vaguely resemble Middle-earth.)

Shaggy Kiwi musicians Bret McKenzie, 31, and Jemaine Clement, 33, are the stars of HBO's newest series, which takes its title from their band name. Fueled by boyish whimsy and clever pop parodies, Flight of the Conchords premieres Sunday (10:30 ET/PT).

The two ex-roomies, who have known each other since the mid-'90s, play scruffier versions of themselves, struggling troubadors living in a dingy one-room flat on New York's Lower East Side, desperate to find gigs and attract girls.

Unfortunately, their manager is an ineffectual buffoon who expends much energy taking roll call whenever the three have a meeting. And our heroes tend to sabotage their chances with the opposite sex by tagging along on each other's dates. Says McKenzie, who is engaged in real life, "I don't think we are acting very much. The crew can't tell the difference."

Though they have done festivals from Melbourne to Vancouver billed as their country's "fourth-most-popular guitar-based digi-bongo a capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo," the pair is used to bewilderment over their citizenship.

Last year, Clement only muddied matters by posing as an Aussie in several offbeat Outback Steakhouse ads, making such deadpan declarations as, "In Australia, it's a day ahead. … That's why the food's so good. It's from the future."

He feels Kiwis overestimate their visibility. "They are always struck by how the rest of the world doesn't know about New Zealand. There are only 4 million people. It's a relatively small country."

Perhaps the HBO show will help raise New Zealand's profile along with that of the Conchords. Since March, the spoofy tunesmiths have been in Manhattan filming 12 half-hour episodes, most directed by James Bobin (Da Ali G Show).

Seamlessly meshing oddball ditties such as the rap extravaganza Hiphopapotamous vs. Rhymenocerous into each week's plot was the biggest challenge. McKenzie says they found inspiration in the failed 1990 series Cop Rock, which combined law enforcement with Fame-like musical numbers. "It sort of gave us fear and hope," he says.

Slight of build and fair of face, McKenzie already has done his part to shine a global spotlight on his homeland by playing the enigmatically pouty elf extra, dubbed Figwit by online admirers, in the first and third Lord of the Rings movies.

As for bulky and bespectacled Clement, he stars as an antisocial geek in the New Zealand film comedy Eagle vs. Shark, opening Friday.

The Sundance hit is Napoleon Dynamite with a higher elevation. Just don't pick on Clement's mullet, which he grew for the film and became fond of in spite of himself: "I remembered what I liked about having one when I was 15. It sort of frames the head nicely."

The Conchords plan to tour this summer, and a new CD is out in the fall. But first, the series must face the ratings music. They are especially nervous about the tagline, a phrase plucked by the cable network from one of their cheekier interviews: "The new comedy series that makes love to your ears."

Sounds good, Clement says, "until you visualize it."

Flight of The Conchords - HBO - by Nicole Rivelli

"Comedy series that makes love to your ears": In Flight of the Conchords, New Zealanders Jemaine Clement, left, and Bret McKenzie star as musicians — not much unlike themselves — looking for gigs and girls in New York.

Taken from USA Today

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