Let’s get one thing straight. There is no such thing as a bad Flight of the Conchords episode.
Airing for two short seasons in 2007 and 2009 on HBO, the show was the herculean creative output of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, an experience so intensive for the duo that they chose to stop after only 22 episodes. It’s a shame that we have so few episodes, but the pair’s uncompromising creative involvement in such a finite product means we got nothing but the good stuff. Much like David Simon and The Wire, Clement and McKenzie told the story they needed to tell, and they left on the highest of notes.
That story was one of two hapless, naive Kiwi musicians and their even more hapless and naive manager looking for love and success in New York City.
Ostensibly the show is a vehicle for the music, and each episode features at least two original and astoundingly inventive and funny songs. But the real magic, for me at least, is found in the spaces between the songs. Bret and Jemaine’s alter egos are equal parts funny and pathetic, at once too cool and too polite for their own good. The exuberance of the musical numbers is a lovely juxtaposition to their usual stiffness, but even better is the work of the supporting characters — Mel’s bug-eyed intensity, Dave’s shockingly profane bravado, and of course Murray’s unflagging and supremely ill-advised optimism all play beautifully off the band, their foibles both complementing and complemented by the pair’s deadpan niceness.
If there’s a particular episode that pales in your memory, I dare you to re-watch it. Go ahead. They’re all on Amazon Prime. Even if it has your least favorite songs, I can almost guarantee it’ll have jokes you’ve completely forgotten that are the funniest you’ve heard in years.
So without further ado, here are all 22 episodes of Flight of the Conchords, ranked to the best of my abilities, even though each one is solid gold.
22. Evicted (s2e10)
It was a hilarious moment in a very bleak, bleak time of my life
If we’re looking for a way to choose the worst episode, we might as well start with the finale, because the very fact that it exists means there is no more Flight of the Conchords. Or at least not the HBO show. (And if I’m being completely honest, I’ve never entirely understood the song “Petrov, Yelyena, and Me”). But despite its nature, “Evicted” is a fitting end. Bret and Jemaine are kicked out of their apartment and, despite literally being managed by a member of the New Zealand consulate, they’re deported. But before they leave they rekindle Mel and Doug’s marriage and help Murray put on the ultimate musical experience. It’s a sad end to an era, but it’s heartening to think of Bret, Jemaine, and Murray still off shepherding somewhere in New Zealand.
21. Prime Minister (s2e7)
Sometimes love is as sweet as kalbi (beef delicacy) / Sometimes the taste is likened to milk of a cow who has done nothing wrong
One of the finest running jokes in Flight of the Conchords is New Zealand’s quaint existence outside time, and nothing drives the joke home quite like the nation’s Prime Minister, Bryan. Every word out of his mouth is gold — checking in on the country on an enormous portable phone, he can be overheard asking Warwick, whoever that is, to get some of his cousins together to clean up the environment a bit. Then he excitedly discovers a VHS of The Matrix, only just out in New Zealand. The B-story is a tiny bit unwieldy, forced to support Mary Lynn Rajskub as an Art Garfunkel fetishist, Patton Oswalt as an Elton John impersonator, and Art Garfunkel as himself in a very small amount of time. The ending, in which two identical Elton Johns sneak off to be gay in character and lead the poor Prime Minister to deduce that he’s witnessed a glitch in the Matrix, works a little bit better on paper than it does in practice. But all can be forgiven just for the introduction of Bryan, a truly great man.
20. Girlfriends (s1e8)
Ça va? / Ça va. Ça va? / Ça va. / Voilà, la conversation dans le parc
Why is there something funny about a woman aggressively pressuring an unwitting man into having sex with her? Is it only because the gender roles are swapped? Honestly, that’s most of it, although Jemaine’s envy of Bret’s genuinely bad situation does a lot of heavy lifting as well. A straightforward parody of sexual harassment like this might be much harder to pull off if it were made today, but it still manages to serve as a great send-up of both classic gender roles and terrible, traditionally male behavior. Bret and Jemaine, like all New Zealanders, are sweet and innocent, and it would never occur to either of them to behave the way that Lisa does. It’s a smart commentary on a certain transparent and loathsome type of conduct that might go excused if it weren’t so rarely represented as coming from a woman.
19. Sally Returns (s1e5)
You know when I’m down to my socks / It’s time for business / That’s why they’re called business socks
God, I love “Business Time.” Its inclusion in the episode might be the mother of all shoehorns, but I don’t even care. It’s glorious. This episode shows Bret and Jemaine at their worst, shamelessly competing for the same woman with no regard for the other people in their lives — Jemaine moves out on Bret and Bret completely ignores poor Coco. In the end, it’s all okay again, though, as Sally upgrades to an Australian (it’s what she was always looking for), Bret and Jemaine move back in together, and Coco dumps Bret. The dumping scene, relayed from a past conversation through Jemaine, is the most understated and simplistically hilarious sequence of the whole episode. After “Business Time,” of course.
18. Wingmen (s2e9)
I take a cup and then I put it on my head / And I just stand there bein’ freaky with a cup on my head
A rare instance of romantic success! Even though he bases all his decisions on sitcom plots he knows didn’t work well, and even though he seems not to know the difference between sushi and sandwiches, Bret has a lovely, freaky evening with Savannah, the woman who works at the cheap zoo (pet store) selling goldfish and budget bears (hamsters). A lovely inversion of tropes in which every ill-advised choice actually works to Bret’s advantage, the episode inevitably ends poorly when Bret’s roommate turns out to obviously be the man who stole her purse earlier, and things only go downhill from there. Especially gratifying is the return of John, the season one mugger, with whom Jemaine has apparently formed a lasting friendship. Especially un-gratifying is Murray’s musings on when exactly the cracks in his marriage started to show. The musings aren’t bad. They’re actually very funny… but they break my poor heart.
17. Yoko (s1e4)
How ’bout you and two dudes / Him, you, and Stu in the nude / Bein’ lewd with two dudes and food / Well that’s if Stu’s into it too
Bret’s coworker Coco returns as his full-fledged girlfriend, and it becomes all too obvious what Coco rhymes with. Jemaine is sad tagging along on all of their dates, but not quite as sad as Murray, whose solo rotunda tour lasts long into the night. In a rare occurrence, one of the band has a moment of emotional clarity, as Bret explains to Murray that “Jemaine’s upset because I asked him not to come on our dates and he’s misinterpreting his feelings about being left out of the friendship as being about the band.” Of course, he loses it in the next five minutes when he insists that he’s going to choose Coco over the band, ignoring her insistence that she’s not at all invested in their relationship. Thank God. Don’t ever change, Bret.
16. A Good Opportunity (s2e1)
There are angels / In the clouds / Doin’ it
The first episode of the second season, “Opportunity” deals with some big changes from the previous finale. Or really, one big change: success. Murray’s become successful beyond his wildest dreams managing hit-machine The Crazy Dogggz (Doggy Bounce #1, Doggy Dance #5, In the Pound #37… The trajectory is clear). And an independent Bret and Jemaine have secured a toothpaste commercial gig that pays $1,000. Each. (The show itself has obviously experienced some success, too, with a much crisper, higher budget look). But success isn’t what Flight of the Conchords is about, and by the end, the band and Murray have managed to lose it all. They end up soaking wet in Murray’s Honda Accord, driving away from their problems and into another year of sad struggles. The way it was meant to be. It’s a great reset, a wiping clean of any growth from the previous season. And it ends, presumably just for the hell of it, with a non sequitur, bizarre, genuinely beautiful song about angels having sex. It’s a resounding, very funny proclamation of things to come.
15. The Third Conchord (s1e12)
In the season one finale, Murray makes a decision that nearly tears the band apart. Much worse than the time he told them to face the audience when they play (they’ve never looked back since) the inclusion of Todd the bongo player sows the poisonous seeds of unrest. It also makes the band unprecedentedly popular, but that’s beside the point. Bret is kicked out, Jemaine is relegated to backup dog, and Murray is even worse at managing two bands than one. The season ends perfectly, with Todd and Demetri Martin (Bret’s erstwhile bandmate) joining forces and becoming fabulously successful with their hit “The Doggy Bounce.” Murray, bless him, achieves his ultimate dream of being a real band manager, Mel moves on to a new obsession, and Bret and Jemaine angry dance their way into the distance. It could have ended like that. It would have been satisfying. Thankfully it didn’t, though, and we got another ten episodes.
14. The New Cup (s2e2)
If you party with the Party Prince / You get two complimentary after dinner mints
The Conchords are apparently living precisely month to month because when Bret buys a cup for $2.79, every one of their utility checks bounces. Of course it’s fun to see the two of them try to be prostitutes (Jemaine’s even good at it, maybe), but the best bits (as they often are) are the little moments in between, like Murray’s financial charts and musical reviews, and Bret and Jemaine having to sell their mum and dad guitars. And of course, the end credits sequence, in which the electricity turns back on and sets in motion a Rube Goldberg machine that smashes the notorious cup (yes, it’s set up like that for the whole episode) is simple and funny and just so satisfying.
13. Newzealandtown (s2e8)
President Reagan / Thatcher / Thatcher / Jazzercise / Lip Gloss
An episode of extremes. The Conchords reach a new low (the majority of the audience are shopping bags), but then they reach a new high (up from the last high point, when the meter was broken outside their apartment and Murray didn’t have to pay for parking). This new high is much higher, as Murray gives them a tub of hair gel and they get cool… not just in their minds. What starts as a put-down becomes fact as, for the first time ever, it’s unclear if the following song and dance is actually happening or, as is the norm, just in their heads. It’s a lovely engagement with the show’s rarely-engaged-with musical aspect. Bryan the Prime Minister is back in top form, accompanied by Lucy Lawless, New Zealand’s most famous actress, as Paula, and Gary, New Zealand’s most famous sheep, as himself. With the presence of Paula and the lovelorn Bryan driving the Newzealandtown tour bus, all signs point to the inclusion of “The Bus Driver’s Song,” but after one fake-out in “What Goes on Tour” the beloved song is passed over yet again. A whistled version does make it into the end credits, at least.
12. Unnatural Love (s2e5)
Goin’ to the party / Sippin’ on Bacardi / Wanna meet a hottie / But there’s Adam, Steve, and Marty
A modern telling of Romeo and Juliet with twice the tragedy, “Unnatural Love” is the natural trajectory for our heroes’ timeless feud with the Australians of New York. Where the show’s Australians are usually just popular bullies, Jemaine’s girlfriend Keitha (like Keith but with an “a” on the end) is deliciously awful. Descended from a long line of rapists and with a “recipe” for tea that’ll make your skin crawl, Keitha is the ultimate justification for the New Zealanders’ perennial prejudice. It’s hard not to feel for Jemaine, who is genuinely smitten, especially when the only person who understands is Dave, who learned a lot about love from watching Interracial Hole-Stretchers 2. Dave’s obscene, sad, over-sexed tangents are always a jarring and welcome tone-shift, and this case is no different. The ultimate twist, that Keitha has ticked Jemaine out of his apartment so she can rob him — is so sad and senseless, but ultimately validating. You really, truly can’t trust an Australian.
11. What Goes on Tour (s1e9)
Or are you an optical illusion / Caused by a woman sitting on a rock / Holding half a fish / Half a sexy fish
Is there a greater tragic hero than Murray Hewitt? I defy you to show me one. Murray inhabits a special blend of pathos and optimism the like of which has never been replicated, and while the band’s rock n roll antics are fun, he really carries this episode. Until now he’s served as almost pure comedy with his naive enthusiasm. But this tour, financed by the bank account shared with the wife he’s just barely won back, reveals new depths of his pathological desire to be a real band manager. Of course, the tour doesn’t go well, but with the real consequences of each setback evident in Murray’s worsening mood and thinning cash envelope, for once it’s hard to laugh. It’s one of the saddest episodes, and Murray’s “Go fuck yourself” (when he says he feels like swearing you automatically brace yourself for the usual innocent silliness) is expertly placed and downright shocking.