Younger-skewing than most HBO fare, “Flight of the Conchords” remains a rare bird — a musical-comedy that fluctuates between being wildly clever and merely odd. Fortunately, the second season discovers the show’s struggling duo in fine form, generating enough moments of genuine whimsy to sustain its cult status and add a much-coveted demographic patch to the pay channel’s programming quilt.
The three episodes previewed find stars Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie again wrestling with the indignities of aspiring musical stardom, from being neglected by their addled manager (Rhys Darby, coming off a scene-stealing turn in the movie “Yes Man”) to being courted to create a jingle for a toothpaste commercial. Any qualms about selling out are quickly banished after a smarmy exec states that doing so will make them “so rich you’ll be shitting money.”
Mostly, though, the show kind of meanders along — much like its aimless protagonists — until characters burst into the absurd, goofy, ambitious musical numbers. This season, that includes a “West Side Story” send-up, and later a veiled tribute to “Midnight Cowboy” when the pair is forced to sell their guitars and contemplate male prostitution in order to buy them back.
Those references will likely elude part of the audience — as will a bit where the native New Zealanders must endure abuse from snotty Australians, which will probably yield much bigger howls several time-zones away. Yet unlike HBO’s ho-hum Aussie import “Summer Heights High,” “Conchords” manages to be dryly funny in a way that bridges cultural borders. And while the Smothers Brothers combined music and comedy in near-equal measure several decades ago, few acts since have mixed the two quite this well.
Because young men are such a coveted demo, slacker TV comedies abound, but even the few promising ones (FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” comes to mind) have difficulty sustaining a credible level of quality. Although this series isn’t for everybody, it’s the kind of solid single HBO can use while waiting for a new batch of heavy hitters to arrive; it’s a refreshing favorite within the YouTube quadrant that won’t leave their elders muttering about the crap those damn kids watch.
A correction was made to this review on Jan. 14, 2008.