Portlandia is starting to show its age—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The latest episode, “House for Sale,” leaves the hand-crafted birds, the protests and artisanal cocktails for the kids, and instead examines that adult rite-of-passage (or sh!tshow, depending on your experience) that is homebuying. IFC’s sketch comedy pokes fun at real estate’s silly trends— from the dog-and-pony shows of open houses to the gamesmanship involved in making offers on the American dream.
The opening commercial entices viewers to buy into the “microhouse” movement, which offers modern living conveniences in about 100-square feet of space. Instead of the cozy, but cute dwellings showcased on Apartment Therapy or the tiny houses found on Curbed, Portlandia bursts the bubble with one visual joke in the middle of the sketch: Fred Armisen on the crapper. It’s not just any bathroom; this commode also doubles as the home office, so multitasking has never been easier. While it satirizes “microliving,” the cramped quarters and spaces doing double duty are probably closer to reality than not.
The episode then shifts its focus to couples vying for new homes in Portland. The uber-handy Kath and Dave, who’ve restored and crown-molded every possible part of their house, decide they need a fixer-upper to keep themselves busy. After Zillow-ing potential homes, they find a rundown house that turns out to be a crack den. When the denizens start thinking they might be cops, Kath and Dave tell them that they’re “looking to buy.” There’s a humorous exchange when they ask for a “can of crack” and other drugs to distract the dealer before their escape.
Across town, Fred and Carrie are forced to let their landlord Milt (Steve Buscemi) crash on their couch because he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. Despite a little thing called “tenants’ rights,” Milt essentially takes over the home and raises their rent, forcing Fred and Carrie to try and buy a house together.
Buscemi last appeared on last season’s Portlandia as a desperate produce salesman in the “Celery” episode; and like last time, his character didn’t quite work for us. He’s given very little to do in “House for Sale.” While Milt is annoying and mousy (no one does that better than Buscemi), the sketches in which he’s involved just aren’t that comical, or even entertaining. They’re boring.
One scene in the middle of the episode stands out because it’s both Carrie and Fred-free. Kristine Levine and Ebbe Roe Smith are a couple with 50 Shades of Grey sexual proclivities who want to downsize to a microhouse. When they list their home, they’re visited by Portlandia regular Ronald D. Moore, who says that he’s not interested in buying a home. He’s just a lookie loo. The scene went on for too long, and without Fred or Carrie to guide it, the punchlines fell flat.
Levine and Smith next enlist the help of super real estate agent Glynnis, played by Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn. Glynnis doesn’t flinch when she sees the sex romper room; nor does she hesitate in telling them that their butt plug collection has to be moved. Gunn is terrific, playing the strict and straight-laced real estate maven, who brings in a staging company to redecorate the house with “random piles of weathered wood” and other decor.
At the open house, Kath and Dave and Fred and Carrie both try to get ahead of the purported “flippers” in the crowd—and each other. When Glynnis suggests that Kath and Dave write a heartfelt, handwritten letter to the sellers, there’s a particularly funny moment when Kath and Dave ask their son to write in cursive for them. It’s ridiculous but true: Who puts a physical pen to paper anymore?
First-time homebuyers Fred and Carrie eventually get the nod from the sellers—and Glynnis. But there’s a problem. Neither Fred nor Carrie know what “escrow” means. “I thought you knew, and that’s why you weren’t listening,” Carrie says. That line hilariously rings true for many new homeowners.
Fred and Carrie then pop in an Escrow 101 VHS tape, which is one of the episode’s highlights. The narration begins with the etymology of the word. They—and we—learn that Thoth, the Egyptian god of time had a brother named “Eye-scroh” who was the Egyptian god of “waiting 30 days.” The material on the VHS tape was an audio-visual treasure trove of jokes.
While “House for Sale” won’t break any records on the laughometers, we do commend the episode for mining a more grown-up subject matter, much like “Healthcare” did earlier in the season. Despite some of the misses this week, Armisen and Brownstein continue to keep Portlandia’s sketches current. In fact, the only thing they missed from this home-buying episode is the absurd mountain of paperwork that needs to signed and notarized.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.