Portlandia—the original IFC comedy series created, written by and starring Fred
Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney’s
singer/guitarist)—is midway through its six-episode run. And that’s such a
shame because the show is just hitting its sublimely funny stride.
The half-hour sketch comedy spoofs the citizens of environmentally friendly Portland, Oregon. And the City of Roses—chock full of coffee bars, microbreweries and politically correct people—seems ripe for satire. The loosely connected vignettes were shot entirely in Portland, and a number of guest stars have jumped on the bandwagon.
This week, singer-songwriter Aimee Mann joins the fun as Fred’s and Carrie’s cleaning lady. At first, they’re a bit confused and wonder if that’s really the pop idol sweeping the living room’s hardwood floors, so they do a little reconnaissance: They yell “Aimee!” from the hall and duck and cover. When she looks up from sweeping, Fred and Carrie have their answer. While they’re ecstatic about meeting Mann the musician, they’re also a little critical of her cleaning style. They poke fun at other female singer/songwriters in order to get in Aimee’s good graces, ragging on Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan (who does a cameo as a gardener).
The next scene features Fred and Carrie as giggling tourists/Harajuku Girls at a coffee shop. The scene mimics a Japanese video game, where they down espressos like fiends and a “ride complete” caption pops on occasion. They hit on a guy in line telling him he looks like Johnny Depp (not at all), play with a virtual pet dog on a keychain and take lots of pictures. Ride complete.
Some characters recur throughout the series, and many times, there’s a little gender bending involved. In her Lance character, Brownstein plays a long-haired boyfriend who favors wife-beater T-shirts; he’s ordered a special present—an Orgazmic Ring—for his girl (Armisen). The box that the sex toy comes in is huge, and Armisen can’t get aroused because she’s bothered by the wasteful and un-eco friendly packaging. She tries to recycle and make crafts from the materials, but they ultimately dump the box on a homeless guy. The box doesn’t like that very much and exacts its revenge.
Not all the sketches work, but they’re at their peak when they stick to the cultural critique. the duo’s dumpster-diving alter egos, who use recycled food for a dinner party, find little treasures in the trash: Fred’s sweater that shrunk in the wash (thanks to the carelessness of Aimee the cleaning lady), packaging from the killer box and even the Johnny Depp lookalike from the coffee shop.
Portlandia’s skits are more akin to Kids in the Hall than SNL. There’s no slapstick, live audiences or laugh tracks, but the show works because Armisen’s and Brownstein’s deadpan humor brings out the best in their top-billed co-star: the city of Portland.
• The social commentary was spot on in this episode. As a maid, Aimee Mann was blamed for not cleaning the stove well, shrinking delicates in the wash and possibly stealing a necklace from the lady of the house.
• “I apologize for downloading like your last four records and I burned all them for friends”
• To Aimee Mann: “Guess who we hate? Suzanne Vega.” They rip up her photo. “Hey do you mind cleaning this up off the floor?”
• “You know who we hate? Tori Amos. Isn’t she the worst?”
• “I wrote Tori Amos a letter and she didn’t write back.”
• Sarah McLachlan: “Did they really make a piñata out of me? What were they thinking?”
• Fred and Carrie get Aimee a gig at the Living Room. Their living room (with $5 cover).
• At the end of the set, Fred and Carrie clap for an encore. And clap and clap. We watch as the sun sets, as Aimee drives home, brushes her teeth and gets a call from Fred and Carrie who are still clapping for an encore.
• “If she comes back, I don’t want her to play any more new songs.”
• Carrie: “Doesn’t it sound good on these little speakers? That’s the best way to listen to music—just on a laptop.”
• “Man I like the way they roast the beans here. It’s like the only place in town that does it right.”