Portlandia Review: "Cool Wedding" (Episode 2.03)

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<i>Portlandia</i> Review: "Cool Wedding" (Episode 2.03)

IFC’s indie favorite Portlandia has been on a hot streak, exploring themes of bartenders vs. mixologists, Eddie Vedder and Battlestar Galactica, among others. The episodes were off-kilter and the humor was right on target, skewering modern American trends and political correctness.

But all good streaks come to an end.

Now we’re not saying that “Cool Wedding” was terrible, but many scenes in this episode fell flat. We’ve been spoiled by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, expecting more from Portlandia.

The show opens with a “commercial” for the iPhone, disguised in a scene where Carrie drops her phone in a parking lot. As she watches her phone fall in slow motion, she flashes back to all the good times spent with it, reflecting on the meaning the phone has added to her life. (It even stops a bullet from a hunter in the woods!) The scene ends with the phone surviving the fall, but she breaks when knocked over. They should have quit while they were ahead because the scene worked up until the very end.

The episode’s title refers to Spike (Armisen) and Iris’ (Brownstein) impending nuptials. The nontraditional couple are working with a wedding planner to help them create a “cool wedding” without looking like they’re trying to be cool. “If there’s anything that you’ve done, we don’t want to do it,” says the moody groom. He goes on to describe the wedding he wants as “pre-planned, yet chaotic.”

They’ve been together nine years and tell the wedding planner that they really don’t believe in marriage as an institution. So why bother? Iris sums their reasons: “Screw it. There’s nothing else to do at this point.”

Throughout the wedding scenes, we watch the hoops Spike and Iris make their friends and families jump through for them: An outdoor wedding with seating scattered about the park, a parachute playtime entrance, a hippie priestess. You name an alternative wedding cliché, and it’s in there. We’re surprised that they didn’t include a punk rendition of Chris Brown’s “Forever” as the soundtrack to the under-parachute march.

The rehearsal is a disaster and they break up. The saving grace to this storyline happens at a basketball court where they divvy up their friends and family, picking teams to ensure no future awkwardness between everyone. Spike says, “I’m going with Rebecca because she’s someone that taught me to listen to music…the right way.”

Snotty statements like that were peppered throughout the episode, and the lines made us cringe more than laugh.

The holier-than-thou attitude came up again during a skit that featured a flip-flop and ponytail-wearing guest Jack McBrayer. He shows up at the local grocery store without his canvas bag. Shocker! He gets ridiculed over the loudspeakers, with the flummoxed grocery clerks trying to think back to when the last time it happened. The scene started off strongly, but it lasted far too long.

A scene between a Netflix customer and her film critic/postman is one of the show’s highlights. It explains the reasons behind the existence of film snobs. While 50 First Dates is at the top of her list, he recommends the silent, German Expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as a movie that all true film lovers must watch. When she tries to return it without watching it to “get going again” (who hasn’t done that?), the postman insists she does—for his own sinister reasons.

We always enjoy scenes from the Women & Women First Bookstore, and while this time they didn’t chide anyone for calling the air conditioner “the unit,” we still took pleasure in watching the duo spoof lit/author events. They ask an author—guest star and noted Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo—for some writing advice. The question? “How do you print the first page?” The bookstore’s dot-matrix printer is acting up, and can’t fix it. They finally get it to work—while she’s reading a passage about her father’s death before a full house.

The skit that gave us a good chuckle takes place at a four-way stop. As nice Portlandians, Carrie and Fred insist that the other person go through first. They wash their cars, have barbecues, read the paper at the intersection waiting each other out, repeating the phrase “No, you go” over and over. Of course, when Carrie decides to go through, Fred does, too, starting the entire cycle over again. It’s a throwaway scene, but they get extra points for finding a working Yugo to drive through the intersection for a great sight gag.

We wished there could have been more touches of off-the-wall humor like that throughout this episode. What made the difference between the first two episodes and this one? It comes down to the likability of the characters. The wedding scenes annoyed us because we know people exactly like Spike and Iris, who try way too hard to be different—and we don’t find them humorous in real life either.