On Saturday, June 2—the kind of hot and humid day that only inspires a dread of July and August—cast and crew members of HBO’s new show Flight of the Conchords crowded into a small soundstage at Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yards.
Inside, an elaborate set was made up to look like the prototypical I-hope-to-make-rent-next-month New York City apartment: two twin beds in a cramped bedroom, an overstuffed, dingy striped sofa, some ironic art on the walls, single dishes and glasses, etc. It was meant to depict the Lower Lower East Side/Chinatown–based home of “New Zealand’s 4th most popular folk parody duo” (as the many advertisements describe Flight of the Conchords), otherwise known as Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, two lovable Kiwis hoping to make their way in the big city. The show follows their travails as buds in a band, which usually involves unpredictably bursting into song, to questionable effect. (“You’re so beautiful / You could be a waitress / You’re so beautiful you could be an air hostess in the 60’s / You’re so beautiful / You could be a part … time … model,” they harmonize, deceptively sweet, to an attractive blonde at a party. While dressed in tinfoil as robots, ostensibly for a video shoot, they put on their best android voices to sing, “The humans are dead / We used poisonous gasses / And we poisoned their asses.”)
It was the last day of shooting for Conchords, which will air on June 17 (a.k.a. the HBO-designated sweet spot, Sunday night, which will feel gapingly empty after The Sopranos’ June 10 series finale). They were shooting part of what was being referred to as their “Bowie” episode. In it, Mr. McKenzie, 30—a lanky, doe-eyed man-child in a red-striped shirt—has been wrestling with body issues, namely that he appears too skinny. In a dream sequence, David Bowie (who looks a lot like Mr. McKenzie’s bandmate, roommate and best mate, Jemaine) appears in Bret’s dream to spout rock-god wisdom.
Mr. Clement, 33, wearing heavy white face makeup (he’s the 1972 incarnation of the glam-rock David Bowie) and blond streaks in his dark hair, stood off-camera reading lines for Mr. McKenzie to react to. Over the next four takes, the two played fast and loose with the scripted text, ad-libbing various bits into Bret’s past “funky dreams”—a guinea pig with his face on it, a dog with his face on it, a cat with his face, the time he was a chair and people kept sitting on him (“Were you feeling anxious?” Jemaine/Bowie asked), each time getting around to the main bit of advice, which was that perhaps Bret should try adding an eye patch to his look. A few crew members covered their mouths to stifle laughs during filming.
“The eye patch was probably the only thing that had to get in there,” Mr. McKenzie said later, over salmon and chick peas, during the production’s lunch break. “There’s a script we use as a structure …. ”
“ … that we never really learn,” Mr. Clement interjected.