If you think you have to be a slacker yourself to make a comedy about two slacker folk musicians, consider the plight of Bret McKenzie. It's late afternoon on the set of Flight of the Conchords, and McKenzie is hanging, duct-taped, on the back of a door.
The setup (spoiler alert!--not that plot twists are that vital on FOTC): McKenzie's character, also called Bret, has been robbed in his apartment by a group of thugs, including the new girlfriend of his bandmate/roommate Jemaine (Jemaine Clement). Jemaine, who's been out sulking over problems in his new romance, walks in the door and finds Bret affixed. Bret calmly tells Jemaine his gal pal has robbed them. Jemaine stares at Bret and asks, "Did she mention me?"
The duo--who also co-write the show and the songs they perform in it--try out a slew of gags over numerous takes. Finally a crew member calls a break. "Can we relieve Bret's arms for a bit?"
Slacking As Hard As They Can
For season 2 of HBO's eccentric musical comedy (Sundays, 10 p.m. E.T.), the slackers are working harder than ever. Season 1, in 2007, took FOTC's off-kilter songs, which the duo had been playing on stage for years, and built a winningly grotty sitcom around them. Bret and Jemaine are obscure musicians on New York City's Lower East Side; their version of a big gig is playing a public-library reading room, and they're so poor they share a tea mug, for which they've drawn up a schedule. They're supported by incompetent manager Murray (Rhys Darby)--by day a bureaucrat in the New Zealand consulate--and obsessed fan Mel (Kristen Schaal).
The premise, the pair say, is an exaggerated version of their early days playing shows in Wellington, N. Z. One episode, Clement says, features a concert in which "we start off, and there's one person, and then we turn the lights on at the end, and that person has left. That was a real gig that we did." But a passionate cult audience discovered FOTC's deadpan humor and the interspersed music videos for songs like "The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)," a sexy soul ballad to attainable beauty. ("You're so beautiful/ You could be a part-time model/ But you'd probably still have to keep your normal job.")
HBO ordered a second season. The problem? FOTC had exhausted most of its song catalog--which meant writing a 10-episode season and the equivalent of a comedy album at the same time. "We're going into the studio on the weekend," McKenzie says, "and we might be finishing a song or even writing a song for that next week."
On top of that, says co-writer James Bobin, are the show's production demands. "We're shooting a sitcom and two music videos in five days. Usually you have a day or three days for a video, and you have six days to shoot a sitcom. So we basically have half the time required to do that sort of work."
Flights of Fancy