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Bizarro worlds: HBO's Flight of the Conchords and Showtime's Meadowlands are invitations to go mental

Coming Sunday night: Real-life New Zealanders Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement and the fake Brogans of fictional Meadowlands.

Two new sets of strangers in strange lands are requesting permission to mess with your heads Sunday night. Anything to take the edge off John From Cincinnati, which already is acting very strangely.

HBO's new addition, Flight of the Conchords (9:30 p.m. central) is easily the more fun of the two. Following John From Cincinnati and new episodes of Entourage, it stars two young New Zealanders who sing a bit like the Bee Gees but can claim only a lone, pathetic groupie.

Showtime's Meadowlands (9 p.m. central) is built around a transplanted family of four who arrive blindfolded at a seemingly protected community. But in fact no one is safe -- or entirely normal. And by the end of Episode 2 we've gotten very dark indeed.

Conchords' two leads, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, are flailing and failing in New York, where they can't seem to get girls, gigs or anything resembling a decent meal. The two are playing themselves, at which they're very good.

Bespectacled Jemaine fashions himself a lady's man, but has been a bit cheated in the looks department. He resembles both Jeff Goldblum and Mick Jagger, neither of which is quite enough to make him even unconventionally handsome.

Best friend Bret is slighter of build and the looker of the two. Still, his savoir faire is positively Dennis Kucinich-ian, which leaves no room for error.

The boys light up, though, when performing two or three integrated songs per episode. This isn't The Monkees, but the concept at least is somewhat reminiscent. Several of the songs and lyrics are very catchy, almost hypnotic.

In Sunday's first episode, "I'm Not Cryin' " is worth your price of admission. It's a hysterical and sometimes hysterically funny song of rejection. No, those aren't tears, but "my eyes are just a little sweaty today."

Next Sunday's second episode hums along with "Inner City Pressure," a sad but true song about how "you know you're not in high finance; considering second-hand underpants." A third half-hour finds Bret and Jemaine taking on the rap names "Rhinoceros" and "Hippo-po-potamus."

Ably assisting their aimless adventures are hapless band manager Murray (Rhys Darby) and creepy groupie Mel (Kristen Schaal), who'd be off-puttingly pathetic if her facial mannerisms and delivery weren't such howls.

But will they be able to keep this up beyond the 12 episodes HBO has ordered? For now I'll have whatever they're having, because Flight of the Conchords seems so guileless in its efforts to be distinctly different. It's hard to describe exactly what's going on here. Just keep doing it for as long as you possibly can.

Showtime's Meadowlands sometimes tries too hard to be a twisted tale of deception and misdirection. Its principal protagonists are the British Brogans, who used to be the Foys before a mysterious fire made them candidates for a blindfolded trip to an outwardly manicured community.

Danny Brogan (veteran BBC star David Morrissey) initially is convinced he's in the right place.

"Out there, nothin' good can happen. Do ya get me?" he tells his restive wife, Evelyn (Lucy Cohu).

Seventeen-year-old daughter Zoe (Felicity Jones) quickly develops a jones for handyman Jack Donnelly (Tom Hardy), who's sorely tortured from within.

Her twin brother, Mark (Harry Treadaway), at first is a mute voyeur who enjoys watching dumpy middle-aged neighbor Brenda Ogilvie (Melanie Hill) undress her inhibitions. Wait'll he starts talking, though. The kid's got a lot of weird hangups, including in his closet.

Episode 2 gets eerier and also considerably grislier. Let's just say that Hardy plays the hell out of Jack Donnelly, to the point where the character is almost unbearable to watch.

Meadowlands never lets the viewer forget that all isn't as it seems. You're seldom far from a "wh-o-o-o-o-sh" or other artificial additives that in fact detract.

Still, it might be well worth playing along for a while. Showtime bills Meadowlands as an "eight-episode dramatic series," which indicates a beginning, a middle and an actual resolution of some sort.

That would be a nice change of pace -- a serial drama with a foreseeable finish line. Don't know how much fun it's going to be getting there, though.

Grades: Flight of the Conchords -- A-minus; Meadowlands -- B