The Hollywood Reporter predicts disaster, calling the show,
so cloyingly doofy that [protagonists McKenzie and Clement] are not only tough to root for but difficult to watch for extended periods.
Other critics responded more positively. Flynn of Entertainment Weekly, called the show a "simple bit of joy," and gave it an A-. Stanley of the New York Times offered a review that was thoughtful and affectionate.
Here’s the problem. This is "second look" television. It’s pretty difficult to appreciate the show unless you watch episodes a second time. Much of the show is resident in its subtleties. Miss these and you end up sounding like a Hollywood Reporter reporter. How embarrassing. (Imagine having your least observant moment committed to paper and national scrutiny?)
Traditionally, TV has honored a "one look" contract. In the early days, there were no reruns and no rewinds. The medium was obliged to keep it, um, medium. Things were served up with stunning clarity. Writers hated it, directors hated it, actors hated it. But in the democratic world of TV, no viewer was left behind.
The "one look" contract said keep the proposition loud and clear. If need be, repeat the proposition. When that didn’t work, have characters "explain" things to one another. And if that didn’t work, summon Dr. Exposition (as Mike Myers calls him), the character who’s sole function was to make things unmistakable clear…and have him make things unmistakable clear.
We have seen everyone’s media literacy get better. And many shows are now sufficiently sophisticated and understated to reward a second look, including the work of Aaron Sorkin, shows like Arrested Development, The Wire, and Homicide, and networks like HBO. A "second look" contract with the viewer now appears to be in the works. We talk about a "digital divide" to distinguish between younger media consumers who "get" digital, and older ones who don’t. I wonder whether there is another generational distinction to be made here, one between "one look" viewers and "second look" viewers.
So it we were doing this as a Harvard Business School case, the debate come down to this: how many viewers have migrated from "one look" to "second look" capability, and how many of those will find pleasure in the rest of Flight. ("Second look capability" is the necessary condition. "Pleasure in the show" is the sufficient condition.) Is this number smaller or larger than the one that HBO needs to sustain the show, or at least a "wait and see" commitment to the show? Hey, presto, we have cracked the case.
The secondary marketing question is how successfully HBO has identified a "second look" audience and how well have they reached out to this audience? Mostly this is a "word of mouth" undertaking, but we must hope HBO is being maximally strategic here.
As to the pleasure of The Flight of the Conchords, well, there’s lots of that, but more tomorrow.
Flynn, Gillian. 2007. Taking ‘Flight.’ Entertainment Weekly. Issue 941/942. June 29-July 6, 2007, p. 125.
Richmond, Ray. 2007. Flight of the Conchords: Can a couple of sullen, sardonic New Zealand boys find success singing, strumming and spoofing at 10:30 p.m. on HBO? I’m guessing no. here.
Stanley, Alessandra. 2007. The New Zealand Invasion: Digi-Folk Now! New York Times. June 15, 2007. here.
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS
Dakota Pictures, Comedy Arts Studios and HBO
Teleplay-creators: James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
Executive producers: Stu Smiley, James Bobin, Troy Miller
Co-executive producers: Tracey Baird, Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie
Producers: Anna Dokoza, Christo Morse
Director: James Bobin
Director of photography: Patrick Stewart
Production designer: Christine Stocking
Costume designer: Rahel Afiley
Editor: Casey Brown
Casting: Cindy Tolan
Jemaine: Jemaine Clement
Bret: Bret McKenzie
Coco: Sutton Foster
Mel: Kristen Schaal
Murray: Rhys Darby