When Flight of the Conchords star Rhys Darby began devising his first solo project, he might not have imagined it would end up on Netflix alongside global hits like House of Cards. Yet last month it was the zeitgeist-altering media company that snapped up Short Poppies, his new show, and added it to their increasingly diverse portfolio of original content.
As it happens, the partnership is an ideal match. Darby tells me he and his wife had already joined the cult of the binge-watcher created by Netflix’s model of releasing entire series in one go, consuming three or four episodes of House of Cards in a single sitting. “It feels like the future. It’s great that people across the globe see Short Poppies with the flick of a switch, rather than having to wait for it to be sold to another television network, and then watch it once a week.
“That whole model seems so outdated now. I think it’s how art should be consumed. It’s like paintings – you put them up there and take them in in one go, rather than having to come back every week.”
Short Poppies, an eight-episode mockumentary focusing on the eccentric inhabitants of a small New Zealand town – all played by Darby – was conceived almost as soon as his role as Murray Hewitt, the hapless consulate official-cum-band manager charged with promoting the musical talent of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, came to end when Flight of the Conchords’ two-season run on HBO finished in 2009. In the subsequent years he took parts in other shows without ever finding the right fit, whilst maintaining his stock trade as a stand-up comedian and developing a roll call of new characters.
All the while, the influence of Flight of the Conchords was never far from his thoughts. “I wanted to do an improvised comedy that felt very real but was also combined with the very ridiculous. We did a lot of it in the Conchords, acting to make it seem very real but talking about subject matter that was ridiculous. Those moments made me realise that’s my favourite type of comedy – I want to be there on the spot creating comedy with whatever’s around me.”
An example of this ‘on the spot’ approach is evident in the scenes Darby shares with fellow comedian Stephen Merchant (“Probably the most insanely funny times I have had,” he tells me). Merchant, who happened to be in New Zealand with his own stand-up show at the time and agreed to “come and play for a day”, isn’t the only famous face to feature in Short Poppies – he’s joined by adventurer Bear Grylls and Hollywood actors Sam Neill and Karl Urban.
I ask if Darby thinks he was able to get these names on board because they were Flight of the Conchords fans?
“I think they are. Ever since Conchords finished I’ve been surprised by the things that have happened to me. When Richard Curtis brought me over to do The Boat The Rocked I found myself working with Emma Thompson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy. I’m sat there thinking I was out of my league, but then Bill Nighy came up to me, told me how much he loved Conchords and said it was an honour to be working with me.”
“It’s funny the impression that show has had on people, so we just reached out. We told them they could improvise a lot and just have fun, and I guess some of these actors really don’t get that sort of offer very often. Or maybe they just thought nobody outside of New Zealand would see it.”
With Murray Hewitt recently receiving the ultimate millennial accolade in the form of a BuzzFeed listicle, I broach the much-rumoured topic of a Flight of the Conchords reunion and/or film. Darby isn’t so sure. “At the end of the day it’ll be up to the boys, and I think they work individually on so many things that it hasn’t struck them as something they want to do just yet. But I still say never say never.”
Short Poppies is available on Netflix from today.