Monday, March 16, 2009

Flight of the Conchords, "Wingmen": Freak attack

Spoilers for last night's "Flight of the Conchords" coming up just as soon as I purchase a kilt, a bottle of Southern Comfort, and a Chris Isaak CD...
"I saw it on a sitcom." -Bret
"Did it work on the sitcom?" -Jemaine
"Not completely. But this is real, so I think I have a better chance." -Bret
This is a dangerous game that clever comedy writers sometimes play, this idea that if they take a standard plot device from traditional, mediocre sitcoms, they can improve upon it -- or, at least, can get away with using it by having the characters reference the fact that it's a bad sitcom plot. Sometimes, it works. More often, you just wind up making a bad sitcom yourself. And that's basically what "Wingmen" was. Because it takes place in the "Conchords" universe where the logic isn't quite normal, there were amusing little touches, like Dave's secret surveillance gear turning out to be a pair of walkie-talkies, or Mel giving Bret advice on how to stalk the pet shop girl, but too much of it was every bit as predictable and lame as the equivalent episode of "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" would have been.

Because of that, "Wingmen" turned out as the mirror opposite of most of "Conchords" season two. Instead of having great jokes holding up forgettable songs, we had a couple of great songs (really, one good one and one great one) compensating for some underwhelming comedy.

When I saw the Conchords in concert last year, the two songs that really stuck out to me were "Carol Brown" (used brilliantly in "Unnatural Love") and "I Told You I Was Freekie," which I knew they were going to do something awesome with when it became a music video. The final version didn't disappoint, particularly when it ended, Jemaine came home and discovered Savannah painted as wallpaper and Bret covered in honey-money. There's always this question of how much some of the music videos bleed into reality -- in season one's "Mugged" (which introduced John the mugger, making his not-so-triumphant return here), when Bret and Jemaine finish "Rhymenoceros Hiphopopotamus," John asks, "Are you guys dancing a little bit?" -- and I liked discovering that not only had Bret told Savannah about all these fetishes, but that she was, like Coco, into it.

"Bret's Day" was interesting not only as an unexpected Billy Joel soundalike (seriously, play it alongside "Piano Man"), but for being presented relatively unadorned. Just Bret singing and playing as he walks through the apartment, punctuated occasionally by spoken complaints from Jemaine (before Jemaine gets into the spirit and picks up his bass). There are times when the video production winds up overshadowing the songs -- and/or times when the songs need the overshadowing -- but it was nice to hear a simple and clever story-song without outside distractions. It more or less played out the way it would have in one of their stage shows.

Now, this may be the next-to-last "Conchords" episode ever. HBO hasn't decided on a third season, and I'm not sure if the guys would want to keep going. The nature of the show -- writing original comedy, original songs, and filming one or two music videos per week -- gives it one of the higher degrees of difficulty in the TV business, and I could imagine Bret and Jemaine wanting to quit while they're ahead. It would make me sad, but I would understand.

What did everybody else think?

30 comments:

kathy said...

It was below par FoTC but because the show is so inherently great, it had its moments even in a middling episode. I fully admit to having a crush on Jemaine so my objectivity is suspect, but I think Jemaine is the funnier of the two and that having this episode focus on Bret contributed to it beeing weak.

Texany said...

The songs were great, I agree.

Bret's song reminded me of one of those meandering Irish melodies, and the lyrics were just beautiful.

I agree the writing was a little flat this time (especially considering this episode was written by the 3 Conchords), but to me the music made up for it.

(I actually liked Bret's sitcom references... and Jemaine watching dog agility on tv was a nice touch.)

qualler said...

I noticed in the promo for next week's episode that it was labeled "The final episode of..." Definitely makes me think that both HBO and the fellas are leaning more toward not continuing, which is very sad.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I noticed in the promo for next week's episode that it was labeled "The final episode of..."

I asked someone at HBO about that, and was told it was only referring to the final episode of the season. But, yeah, I saw that and was startled, even if that's how HBO sometimes promos these things.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to post this here, but Alan, the fact that you are writing about Flight -- a cute but ultimately sort of meaningless show -- while ignoring Eastbound & Down just sort of crushes me.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I am sorry to post this here, but Alan, the fact that you are writing about Flight -- a cute but ultimately sort of meaningless show -- while ignoring Eastbound & Down just sort of crushes me.

I don't want to derail the Conchords talk, but two points:

1)"Cute but ultimately sort of meaningless" seriously dismisses the genius of Conchords.

2)I gave "Eastbound" two and a half episodes and found I despised Kenny Powers so much that I couldn't get through any more. I admire Danny McBride's fearlessness and commitment to playing this guy as a complete ass with no redeeming qualities, and to making the show be without sentiment, but I find it about as pleasant to sit through as a proctology exam.

Sam said...

Anyone know the name of the actress who played Savannah?

Anonymous said...

I would hate to see the show end but if it’s a case of diminishing returns it might be for the best. Also, I thought “Bret’s Day” had more of a “Where Do You Go to (My Lovely)” vibe to it than Billy Joel.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Lyrically, maybe. But the tune itself sounds as much like "Piano Man" as the Peter Gunn theme sounds like "Every Breath You Take."

Steve B said...

Definitely a little "Piano Man" in that song.

I don't care what you guys say, I liked this episode. Bret referencing Top Gun...like he always does. Dave thinking Bret was imaginary, what with all the flying in from Never-Never Land. Jemaine waiting for Bret to bring home sandwich bread, but Bret forgetting because he saw a girl and created an imaginary date/romance. Maybe it wasn't a classic episode, but I think it's definitely better than everyone's giving it credit for.

Alan, one of my favorite games to play is to guess what line you use to introduce the show. It's maddeningly, surprisingly, difficult...but I did guess you'd throw a kilt into it somewhere.

Alex said...

Also, I thought “Bret’s Day” had more of a “Where Do You Go to (My Lovely)” vibe to it than Billy Joel. YES! That's all I could think about during the opening scene. I did like the song, though.

Also liked the return of John, the fact that Bret's "Freekie" song did bleed into reality, and Mel's excitement over the thought of the guys spying on her. However, I can see them giving it all up after this season. I think it will just get harder to maintain the consistency of good jokes/writing; it's already getting tough!

Fred App said...

Maybe it's just me, but I thought I detected hints of "Mr. Bojangles" in the melody of the first song.

I agree that in the FotC pantheon, this was not a particularly strong episode. But since it nonetheless had at least half a good half-dozen laugh-out moments (I particularly liked Dave and Jemaine offering conflicting advice over the walkie-talkie), I'm willing to overlook the rest.

I was disappointed, however, that the tourism poster in Murray's office had the poorest slogan this season.

sc said...

I agree....not the strongest FoC of the year, but had one of the funniest, laugh out lines for me I've heard on this for a long time....John telling Jemaine to take off the mask because he looked like the Hamburglar!!
Also, I just love how Dave doesn't get where New Zealand is or how the guys got here.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the casting of Halley Feiffer as Savannah has anything to do with her working with Jemaine in Gentlemen Broncos.

I realized that when it comes to this show, I will forgive a lot of sins if the episode has a good Mel moment, so overall I was fine with this one. I was also disappointed in Mel walking away from the guys in last week's episode, but so enjoyed her breaking into their apartment, I didn't get too upset. Having seen the preview for the finale, I'm not too worried. Part of me does hope there is an ending as awesome as last season's finale, though.

Patrick Wynne said...

Except for some of the visuals and the lines "I told you I was freekie / but you didn't believe me", I thought that song was one of their worst.

Conversely, I thought the first song was one of their best.

I would love a third season of Conchords. And if Bret and Jemaine find it too hard to some up with and/or work in songs, drop 'em. I find the bizarre humor on this show far more appealing than their songs and would gladly do with seeing only snippets of their gigs (because I never tire of hearing "who likes to rock the party?") if it meant we got more seasons of the guys, Murray, Dave, Greg and Mel.

Oh, and more Brian the PM and Brenda!

Anonymous said...

I was a little disappointed that Bret's strange behavior in the kilt wasn't part of some dance for "I Told You I Was Freekie" like it seemed in the preview, but it's hard to criticize when the actual walkie-talkie scene was so funny. The laughs just kept coming.

Tyroc said...

"Bret's Day" reminded me a bit of a Richard Thompson song, and was one of my favorite that they've ever played.

I'd be sad if the show goes away. Even the not as great episodes, still make me smile a lot. A nice way to end the weekend and get refreshed for the week ahead.

(Oh, and Alan I'd love your thoughts on Sci-Fi channel's lame rebranding as syfy. Which sounds like a slang version of syphilis to me.)

Anonymous said...

I agree this episode was below par, but the one redeeming aspect was the guys calling the pet store a "cheap zoo"

Nicole said...

I immediately thought of Piano Man when Brett started his song, and when he switched to the keyboard it confirmed it for me. It's the descending bass line that is identical, with enough changes in the melody to make it alike but not identical.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, the possibility of no more Conchords? It breaks my heart, but I am not surprised. I can't remember whether if it was your interview or somewhere else where both admitted that HBO just assumed there would even be a season 2 and didn't really ask them. Maybe they were joking but their responses always stuck with me...

Jeff W. said...

I agree this episode was below par, but the one redeeming aspect was the guys calling the pet store a "cheap zoo"

And then Bret trying to get Jermaine to take his picture by the guinea pigs...

Yemaya said...

I really liked this episode - thought it was very funny, but didn't like Freaky much, except for the ending which was fantastic. First song was great. Loved the ending - that Brett didn't do the sitcom thing and try to cover it up - I followed you home, etc. and then: "do you want me to help you break up with her?" "that'd be good"
Also: the cheap zoo.
Only two dud eps in the season for me. I'm in the less songs; more comedy camp.

Anthony Foglia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mwu said...

Y'know, even a not-great episode of FotC is pretty great. Given that most bands produce 14 songs in two years, the fact that Bret and Jemaine are able to produce about 7 good songs, a handful of OK ones, 10 episodes (assuming the last one is at least decent) of some of the better TV comedy around while writing and acting, all since 2007, is pretty impressive. If I didn't end the show now, the next season shouldn't come till 2010.

Also: "She likes eggs. You should make her an omelette!" was enough to get me to watch this episode again....

dronkmunk said...

Now I have to read spoilers for other shows?

Patrick Wynne said...

"And then Bret trying to get Jermaine to take his picture by the guinea pigs..."

Did anyone happen to catch what Bret called them? It sounded to me like "budgey bears" or something. I'm wondering if that's some Kiwi name for the guinea pig.

TC said...

I think it was "Budget Bears," which fits in nicely with Cheap Zoo.

Anonymous said...

below par?

what standards are u using? this was hilarious and featured 2 classic songs

Allen said...

Anyone notice the picture of Bret with the eye patch during the "Freaky" song? Referencing the Bowie episode from last season, and all I could hear in my head was "wear the eye patch, Bret, wear the funky, funky eye patch."

I love the self-referential humor.

Texany said...

Finally found the actress who played Savannah:

Halley Feiffer.