ADVENTURES OF THE UNADVENTUROUS: The post-Sopranos era of HBO got off to a slow start last weekend when ratings for John From Cincinnati, the new series from Deadwood creator David Milch, dropped to just 3.4 million viewers from the 11.9 million who were watching when the screen went black on the last episode of The Sopranos.


I actually liked the debut episode of John From Cincinnati, angry surfers and all, and I’m not sure how much Flight Of The Conchords, which debuts this Sunday on TMN at 9:30, is going to help HBO’s profile. The new half-hour comedy from New Zealand comic duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie is surfer-free, as far as I can tell, but it’s also conspicuously light on the whackings and much-cherished moral ambiguity that made the Sopranos a hit with Scarface lovers on one hand and New York Review Of Books readers on the other.


Lacking things – money, charm, enthusiasm, luck, inspiration, sex appeal – is pretty much the theme of Flight Of The Conchords, which means that it’s set in the world of twentysomething bohemians who live stacked like old paperbacks in the tenement apartments of lower Manhattan. Clement and McKenzie play variations on themselves – two aspiring musicians who’ve moved to New York from New Zealand for their big break, and live from hand to mouth, sponging off of each other and anyone who isn’t paying attention.


Initially it comes off like Tenacious D on Placidyl; except for the musical numbers – more about those later – it’s shot with harsh lighting and wide lenses, ambient room noise and street sounds rumbling away in the background of the soundtrack. Clement and McKenzie make deadpan seem strident as they approach every new situation in their banal lives with a preemptive sense of failure.


The musical numbers, three of them per episode, are the real reason to watch. They barely lift the pair out of their lives, but they give a sense of the fantasy life of these two committed underachievers with songs that riff on Prince, Kraftwerk and the Pet Shop Boys, among others with what feels like karaoke daydreaming. The show nails the dreary half-life of the hipster underground today, with its paucity of new ideas and dead weight of recycled irony. Whether that can pull in ten million viewers on a Sunday night remains to be seen.