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Another Portland Blog

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Portlandia is actually....good?

Boy howdy, if this ain't a surprise.

What seemed like a lame idea for a lame show centered around a series of lame send-ups of lame Portland cliches is actually much more than half-baked lameness. Portlandia takes a tired gag, like making fun of feminist bookstores, and transcends it with absurdest humor reminiscent of The Kids in the Hall while tossing in something unexpected, like a cameo from Steve Buscemi. He shows up at the 8:30 mark of the first episode, posted below.

The premiere tackles time-worn local stereotypes like adult sports leagues and organic farms. Part of the appeal is that these skits are rooted in a thorough knowledge of the city and its inhabitants. I've actually eaten lunch with a guy much like Fred Armisen's character. During a meal at the Morning Star Cafe last summer, he asked a perturbed waitress a dozen questions about the cheeseburger he was considering. After she went to the trouble of asking the manager about the beef the restaurant uses and whether or not the cow had been fed organic corn, he opted for hashbrowns and eggs instead. That guy could probably use a five year stint on a farm "30 minutes south of Portland."

But instead of shooting for easy "look at all these stupid hipsters and hippies" gags, Portlandia is much more ambitious. A skit about an adult "hide and seek" league results in a confrontation between a player and an irritated elderly woman who fillets modern romance and every aspect of his life. The organic farm sketch leads its characters along a strange trip to a cult commune lorded over by Jason Sudeikis.

That said, I can't see this thing lasting beyond a season or two. The premise is bound to paint Portlandia into a corner quickly, unless the show is willing to branch out beyond it fast. Imagine a Saturday Night Live just about Manhattan or a Monty Python just about Manchester. Both would have come with short expiration dates, regardless of how witty the contents. With Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen at the center, they probably have no intention of keeping the show going for more than that though. If anything, this is likely just a goofy side-project for the two of them to fill some time between tours and recording voiceovers for Brainy Smurf in the new Smurfs movie.


I just caught this episode yesterday. I did sort of like the musical bit at the beginning and the scene with the older lady at the library in the last 5 seconds, but that was it for me. Awkward sketch comedy just tends to make me feel uncomfortable. And gah, the restaurant bit?! Here's an idea: skip the chicken! (No, I have no sense of humor about ethical food issues.) I'll have to give this one a pass.
I've never been a fan of "awkward" comedy either. The Office, in particular, just makes me uneasy. I think the show narrowly skirts wandering too far into that territory though.

As for the chicken sketch, I don't suspect that they were trying to deride the entire movement, just those that take the whole thing waaaaaaaay too far. Like any good Portlander, I like to support the slow food movement and local farms that treat their livestock well but I would never hound a waitress about it. If someone is that passionate about where there food comes from, there's plenty of resources online and most restaurants that do utilize CSAs and such make a big deal out of it. They note their efforts on their websites, menus, etc.
meh. glad I saw it, funny-because-it's-true in many ways, but what was up with the part filmed at Zenger Farm? That was just weird.
" Portlandia takes a tired gag, like making fun of feminist bookstores"

Yeah who could ever forget the old feminist bookstore gag? I Challenge you to name 2 other shows/movies/books that have ever used a Feminist bookstores as a gag.
South Park. Kids in the Hall. Saturday Night Live. The State. Just about every sketch comedy show ever...
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