Sometimes these Netflix reviews won’t be about shows that have been recently released. Hell, sometimes they won’t even be about shows that are exclusive to Netflix.
Garfunkel and Oates falls into both of these categories. Originally broadcast on an American network back in 2014, it was only recently added to the Netflix catalogue (at least in Australia). I’ve seen the duo perform on TV at various Melbourne International Comedy Festival Galas, and they impressed with their combination of serene folk music with clever lyrics, often rife with innuendo, so I was naturally inclined to give it a watch.
My natural instinct with this show is to compare and contrast it with Flight of the Conchords. Is that unfair? Possibly, but they’re both television comedies about folk music duos of a similar age with funny takes on everyday life, and there are so many articles out there calling them the female version of the Kiwi duo (which isn’t an insult, although it’s a little easy), so why not? Because it’s lazy? Bite me.
While FOTC has a regular supporting cast including the hilarious Murray and crazy Mel, who both act as extra sources of comedy, Garfunkel and Oates sticks with the duo while adding cameos throughout episodes. Yes, there is a circle of ‘friends’ who we see more than once, but we don’t become too familiar with them. They’re more of a vehicle for some of the scenarios that fuel the episodes or B-stories, perfectly epitomised in songs like ‘I Don’t Know Who You Are’ and ‘Pregnant Women are Smug’.
That means that there’s no one to steal the show, and the burden for entertainment remains strongly on the pair both as individuals and a duo, demanding stronger, more overt performances and often getting them. As well as a lack of a show-stealing supporting cast (which Rhys Darby and Kristen Schaal often were on FOTC), Garfunkel and Oates also don’t have the ‘stranger in a strange land’ angle to mine for material, and they do away with much of the naivety that comes along with it. It’s as sharp as it is silly.
Yes, there’s a distinctly feminine angle to much of the comedy, but that doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) alienate viewers with a penis. There’s enough universal comedy in there as well.
Individually the characters provide a nice balance, with the casual vulgarity of Riki complimenting the overly cautious and inhibited Kate. Instead of sticking to their well-worn archetypes they each try to meet in the middle, and even swap in subtle and not-so-subtle ways (like with the wigs). There are well-worn comedy band tropes including touring and playing shitty venues and third members (which were even explored back in the old Tenacious D HBO series), but they’re done well.
For the most part the songs themselves are all straightforward in their instrumentation, and that’s a good thing. While the Conchords cover a variety of styles and arrangements (and don’t get me wrong, they do it well), the simple folk sounds of the acoustic guitar and ukulele or a piano help you really focus on the words, which are great. The lyrics themselves focus more on content than melody, often coming at you in a rapid-fire style, but they’re well enunciated and the harmonies are deceptively soothing when you consider the cynical bleakness of some of the subject matter. It’s this cynicism that replaces the silly innocence of FOTC, and it shows in their frank approach to topics like sex, drugs and menstruation both within and outside of the songs. Where the Conchords get about as sexual as a song like ‘Business Time’, the first episode of Garfunkel and Oates contains a hilarious but rather up-front track about oral sex. The comedy is much more adult than the more family-friendly stylings of the New Zealanders. While FOTC is a show you can watch with your parents, G and O is at times anything but. Some of the songs lack the punch of others, but like any recording artist you can’t expect them all to be hits, and the songs have to suit the narrative. They have other hilarious tracks that didn’t make the cut for the show, and while this is disappointing it also gives hopes for a second season (although I’ve just done some reading on that question and found out that the show was not renewed for a second season).
‘Garfunkel and Oates’ meets the criteria of being just another comedy music show, but it carves out its own unique and hilarious voice. Here’s hoping Netflix is screening it to assess whether or not funding a second season is a good idea, and here’s also hoping they find out that it is.
IN CONCLUSION: Like Flight of the Conchords, Garfunkel and Oats is a television show named after the starring musical comedy duo, and it’s funny, but that’s where the similarities should end. Garfunkel and Oates have developed their own voice, equal parts rude, awkward and honest, and it’s highly enjoyable.
THE GOOD: Great performances, hilarious songs, disarmingly blunt and ‘disgusting’ at times.
THE BAD: Some songs fall flat