Flight of the Conchords’ HBO comeback is a nostalgic return to form

In the very first episode of Flight of the Conchords, which first aired more than 11 years ago, Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement perform “I’m Not Crying,” a dramatic song dedicated to their boiling emotions, despite their best efforts to pocket them. “These aren’t tears of sadness/They’re tears of joy/I’m just laughing/Ha ha ha-ha ha,” they sing, their weepy faces transposed over one another.

In the context of the show, “I’m Not Crying” comically reveals just how hung up the two characters are over the same girl, a blonde named Sally. Still, it’s the exact musical number I’d like to sing on weeks like these to will, or laugh myself out of something as tormenting as heartbreak, and as tragically comical as a Supreme Court finalist repeatedly yelling “I like beer!”  

During their new concert special, Live in London, Bret and Jermaine revive some classics from the show, including “Inner City,” “Humans Are Dead,” and “Hurt Feelings.” Aside from a couple of new songs, and their graying hair, this special is an innocuous return to form. “You probably noticed that we’re a bit older than we were formally. We’re not ill,” Jermaine jokes after the first song of the special. “We know that people don’t like characters that they know from television to get older. It’s mean to them. It’s disturbing.”

Musically, though, the two are sharper than ever. They each master an impressive amount of instruments, playing everything from flute to guitar to bass to piano to a pineapple maraca. At one point, Bret destroys a solo with two recorders.  

But if you’ve arrived to the comedic duo’s new HBO special in need of coddling during these trying political times or searching for authoritative truths on what men, specifically men in comedy, should be doing to rebuild a crumbling industry, you’ve come to the wrong place. In the past decade, Flight of the Conchords’ material hasn’t become any more politically or socially relevant.

Unlike say, Australian Hannah Gadsby, who sparked social and political conversations with her own comedy special this year, Brett and Jermaine serve as a balm only in that they calmly entertain without really saying anything of consequence—making it the perfect HBO special for a chill Libra season. The entire performance feels like a jump back to the early aughts, a magical time when Facebook had less power.

flight of the concords live in london HBO/YouTube

Like all very good, but short-lived gems of entertainment, Flight of the Conchords developed a cult following with only 22 short episodes. I joined this cult as a teen, back when I could still relish in the random shows and movies found in my small community’s only remaining Blockbuster. But make no mistake, the show was more than an indie hit.

There’s something immediately endearing about the cringy pursuits of Jermaine and Bret, who both suck at dating, making money, living in New York City, and basically everything aside from making genius musical numbers to accompany, and lighten all of their dim, pathetic situations. This show became a precursor to other skit comedy series like Portlandia and Broad City—odes to the ridiculous and necessary friendships of young adults struggling to make it.

But after two wildly successful seasons, the two decided to call it quits. Stephen Colbert recently asked them about their decision to walk away from what he called “the biggest thing in comedy for those two years.” They didn’t give much of an answer, although Bret once told the New York Times it just wasn’t fun anymore.

There isn’t much talking in between the songs here. There is a comically boring skit about a complimentary muffin, a jab at their fictionally mild success as musicians. Those unattached to the artists may miss the nostalgia of their languid performance, but obsessed fans will certainly breathe in every high note and facial expression because it’s been a while since Flight of the Conchords graced the small screen. With everything else going on in the world, this special couldn’t last long enough.

Still not sure what to watch on HBO? Here are the best movies on HBO, the best HBO documentaries, and what’s new on HBO Go this month.

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery is a Daily Dot contributor whose writing and criticism cover all things pop culture, with an emphasis on how communities of color impact physical and digital cultural spaces. Her writing and photography have also appeared in Texas Monthly, the Fader, Complex, and Billboard.