Portlandia’s latest episode, “Late in Life Drug Use,” features a number of returning guest stars, including Kyle MacLachlan, Jeff Goldblum and Vanessa Bayer, but they’re all upstaged by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, who channels his inner dudeness—with a twist.
Homme plays Carrie’s brother, also named Josh, who’s only recently come out to his family. He’s bringing new boyfriend Nick (Swardson) with him to Portland for a visit. Carrie and Fred look forward to home decorating tips and fashion advice from their house guests, but as soon as Josh and Nick arrive on their doorstep, it’s obvious that Carrie’s bro is a bro. And Nick is, too. They’re X-box playing slobs who met during a bar fight at an ESPN Zone. Forget about French press or espresso shots in the morning; they’re just fine with Jaeger bombs for breakfast.
Soon after their arrival, Carrie and Fred’s home looks like a frat house on a Sunday morning. While dozing and spooning on the couch amid pizza boxes, Josh overhears Carrie say, “I got totally ripped off on the gay relative thing.” Homme shows he can hold his own with veteran actors and comedians, when he and Swardson “gay up” the house and themselves. The sketch is a clever way of turning the gay couple stereotype (e.g., Cam and Mitchell from Modern Family) on its ear.
The gay motif wasn’t as successful in the episode’s cold open, in which the mayor (Maclachlan) cancels the pride parade because the LGBT community just isn’t freaky enough or marginalized anymore. “I made an oath to keep Portland weird,” he says. “Gay people are normal. Who’s going to show up?” He enlists Fred and Carrie to help him find the new freaks and outsiders, but the bigot pride parade doesn’t go over very well in Portland. It’s always great to see Maclachlan back as the mayor, but the material just rehashes the classic allergy pride parade from season two.
One of the more creative and humorous sketches involves iris and bicycle boy Spike (who’s growing on us this season). They decide to eat at a Thai restaurant with a “Best of Portland 2013” sticker on the door, bestowed by Bridgetown Weekly. The food’s inedible, and Spike and Iris decide—as the restaurant workers sneak out the door—to go to Bridgetown Weekly to lodge a complaint about their “awards.” At the alt-weekly’s offices, they’re greeted by the same staff, who try and convince the two that they’re legit and not just operating to give themselves good reviews.
The restaurant owner/editor-in-chief introduces the couple to a middle-aged Asian woman who’s supposedly the “music festival listings” editor. Spike strikes up an in-depth conversation with the film writer (and restaurant’s hostess), who seems to know her stuff. While he’s convinced, Iris isn’t, especially when she’s introduced to “Dan Savage,” author of the popular “Savage Love” syndicated column. Bridgetown Weekly’s Savage looks like a 19-year-old Asian guy. (In a brilliant bit of sublime stunt casting, the real Dan Savage appeared in the opening gay parade skit as a community organizer.) This Thai restaurant episode, like Homme’s sketch, proves that when Portlandia shows us its askew worldview, and turns modern preconceptions around, humor abounds.
There were a few sketches that fall flat because they fail to surprise us with a new perspective (and others because they just aren’t funny). We thought that Candace and Toni’s return to Women & Women First Bookstore after a less than stellar outing with the Trail Blazers last week would be triumphant, but we were wrong. As two police officers try and talk to the women about a series of car break-ins, Candace (Fred Armisen) accuses the men of disrespecting them. While Armisen’s delivery is awesomely over-the-top, it’s the same spiel given to every person with an XY chromosome who walks into the store.
The Punslingers sketch features Henry Cottrell (aka the faux Ronald D. Moore) as a writer who works with Fred and Carrie to think of puns for business names, such as “Pizza Paul and Mary” or “Five Easy Pizzas.” Most of the puns bandied about are terrible. And when the U.S. government calls Punslingers for help—the camera quickly cuts to kids reciting the pledge of allegiance with this punchline: “...to the ‘Brewnited States of Americano.’” [Insert cricket sounds here.]
And finally, the episode’s title refers to scenes with Brendan and Michelle, parents from the “Grover” episode” (who stopped at nothing to get their son into a top-notch preschool). Just as they over-prepared Grover for the life-altering decisions of a four-year-old, Brendan and Michelle schedule a time to do drugs after dinner guest Jeff Goldblum gushes about the pros of getting high during middle age. There are moments of snappy dialogue, including Brendan saying that he feels like they may have missed the boat on drugs in high school or college. “I ate a pot cookie in high school, and there wasn’t even any pot,” he said. “So you ate a cookie in high school,” Michelle dryly replies.
The two go about sapping all the spontaneity of their drug outing by doing research and preparation. They pick a date, hire a babysitter, get mouthguards (for the teeth grinding) from the dentist and renew their passports (in case they end up in Mexico). They also videotape words of advice for Grover, such as, “Try not to listen to electronic dance music. I think that’s going to be a phase.”
Despite the funny dialogue and great buildup to the drug date, it’s all wasted because of an anti-climactic denouement—it’s pretty much a buzzkill.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.