Z Rock

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Airdate: 11:30 p.m.-midnight, Sunday, Aug. 24 (IFC)

Before the review, an admission: I was fearful going in that "Z Rock" would be a knockoff of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords," a faux-reality look at a real-life musical duo from New York by way of New Zealand that's somehow loved by far too many people I respect. "Conchords" struck me as overly droll and bland, like a turntable that never quite reaches 33 rpm (to use an outdated vinyl term).

But whereas the HBO show tries way too hard to be cool and in the process forgets to be funny, IFC's new 10-episode, late-night original comedy "Z Rock" is effortlessly, genuinely hilarious. It blends reality with improv dialogue and clever shtick in a way that's never forced and left me laughing out loud a handful of times during the first two screened episodes. And trust me, I never even laugh out loud at "Seinfeld."

There is just something mockingly endearing about this quasi-realistic look at three guys in New York who are aspiring hard rockers playing clubs at night but paying the bills by day performing on the kiddie party circuit in the lavish digs of the well-heeled Manhattan parents.

The conceit here happens to be truthful in that the Brooklyn-born guys -- twentysomething brothers who bill themselves Paulie Z and David Z and their lifelong friend Joey Cassata, age 30 -- really are a band called ZO2 that long labored as child birthday party musicians under the handle the Z Brothers. They don't actually have to do that anymore now that they, you know, have a series deal and stuff. But the satirical look at the angst and tribulations of their one-time double musical life makes for particularly ripe territory from which to mine wickedly funny material.

Airing at 11:30, the material is often raunchy (simulated sex acts, topless groupies, open lusting after hot birthday party moms) as the bandmates portray fictionalized versions of themselves. They also interact with real-life comedians and musicians, some of whom appear in heavy self-deprecating mode like Joan Rivers in the Sunday night pilot. Comic Greg Giraldo also does a hilarious turn as an apoplectic birthday party dad and influential agent in town.

It happens that ZO2 really did have a moment of glory back in 2004 when they toured with the legendary KISS as its opening act. But the treasured label contract never came, in the "Z Rock" lore and for the most part in reality as well. But now they've got a TV show, making them slightly less struggling and as famous as those starring in a late-night show on IFC can be.

In the opener, Paulie and David have their way with a couple of hot groupies in their traveling van (not quite the lavishly appointed bus enjoyed by rock royalty) and nearly blow their big chance for stardom by showing up appallingly late for a kid gig. In the second segment, a mixup finds them double-booked at a kiddie event -- and the other group is the hated, mega-lame Kidtastic! trio. Everything goes even more horribly wrong from there in a way that feels both fresh and grandly irreverent.

The guys make the transition to sitcom players look so easy that we'd swear they were actors. Instead, they're just being themselves. Sort of. And if there's any justice, they just might become a big deal after all.

Production: MarkMark Prods., Starz Media and IFC. Cast: David Z, Paulie Z, Joey Cassata, Lynne Koplitz, Jay Oakerson, Simon Lazer, Athan Goldman, Jerome Weinstein, Darnelle Cadet, Lilian Klein, Chris McGinn, Joan Rivers, Greg Giraldo, Sebastian Bach. Executive producers: Mark Efman, Mark Farrell, Andrew Gottlieb, Debbie DeMontreaux, Evan Shapiro, Rachel Smith. Co-executive producers: Bob Held, Lynn Lendway, Stephen J. Castagnola. Producer: Lindsay Freed. Director: Mark Farrell. Director of photography: Mike Clevenger. Production designer: Grampaw. Wardrobe stylist: Meghan Cahill. Editor: Matt Hollywood. Casting: Jodi Collins.

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