Portlandia Review: “Mixology” (Episode 2.01)

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<i>Portlandia</i> Review: &#8220;Mixology&#8221; (Episode 2.01)

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the second season of Portlandia, the-little-show that-could from IFC.

Show creators, writers and actors Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag) have been all over the media plugging the sketch comedy, including a recent feature on Brownstein—as the grownup riot grrrrl—in The New York Times and a Portlandia profile in The New Yorker, and they’ve graced our cover as well. The two are currently on tour together, taking a live version of the show on the road.

But how does it hold up under all those Klieg lights? Fear not, Portlandia fans, the new season’s first episode, “Mixology,” picks right up where the comedy left off last year, skewering hipster culture and trends, bordering on absurdity. (We’re mostly referring to the absurd skits and not the trends, though in some cases, we’re not too sure).

Local artisan curators Lisa Eversman (Brownstein) and Bryce Shivers (Armisen) kick off the episode by throwing out a new catchphrase: “We can pickle that.” And why not? It’s 2012 and DIY kitchen culture is all the rage. (Besides “Put a bird on it” is so last year.) They pickle—and eat—whatever they can get their hands on—Band Aids, old CD jewel cases, parking tickets and shoe heels. And this all happens before the opening credits. Portlandia is off to a sublimely funny start.

The episode’s title refers to Carrie’s romantic interest in a local Portland mixologist (guest Andy Samberg) who uses mad alcoholic-chemistry skills to create the perfect drink. We’ve all witnessed similar scenes—the zesting, the celery stalks, the raw eggs—just maybe not all at once and served over ice. The smooth-talking barkeep, whom Carrie met in summer camp, explains what he’s created for her: “That is a ginger-based bourbon drink infused with honey, lemon and chard ice…then building off that base we got a cherry tomato, lime zest and I actually made the bitters myself at home…We got egg whites, egg shell, egg yellows, rotten banana…secret of the pros. Also, we’re just trying to get rid of it…The final ingredient is a little bit of love.”

To top it off, he doesn’t charge her for the drink. Fred insists that a smitten Carrie pursue the mixologist by mixing him a tape. (Are mixtapes coming back, too? Or did we already miss that retro trend?)

The skit that follows the bar scene is a little bit of a letdown, focusing on two overprepared hipsters ready for a day of rafting and tubing on the river. They’re more concerned with parsing the meaning of their designated emergency code “Ay-Oh river.” The catchphrase is funny, but we like “We can pickle that” better.

Portlandia smartly shifts gears back to the mixology storyline with Fred and Carrie dropping off the mixtape, only to find out that he’s moved to “SoCal” to tend bar on the beach. They’re flabbergasted: “Who moves out of Portland?” Hopping a cab to SoCal, Fred instructs the driver, “Take the 5 south for 1,000 miles…”

In a change from last season, the show takes viewers to “SoCal” with the Portlandians acting like fish out of the Willamette River. Out of the cab, Fred’s eyes burn and Carrie’s “lilly white skin” becomes irritated. They’re not familiar with the strange, hot object in the sky. In a truly absurdist turn, they don burqas to protect themselves from the sun and walk from east of East LA to the beach bar—about 30 miles.

The audience is also introduced to both new (helicopter parents and grandparents) and returning characters, including Candace and Toni from the Women & Women First Bookstore. The women are trying to get their air conditioning unit fixed. When the repairman asks, “So where can we find the unit?” Toni is immediately offended: “Every time you say the word ‘unit,’ or ‘box’ or ‘equipment,’ I feel a penis here and a penis here…I am halfway to pregnant.”

In their political correctness, Candace and Toni end up being totally incorrect, and viewers relish every moment of it.

Portland and their quirky denizens are the heart and soul of the show, and Portlandia would be smart to stick close to city limits. The road trip to SoCal doesn’t do much, except reinforce stereotypes of life in LA. For example, Andy the caring, sensitive mixologist in Portland has turned into a d-bag in LA. “He’s not a mixologist anymore. He’s just a…a bartender,” Carrie laments. In a Glee-like moment, Carrie woos Andy back by serenading him with memories of their time together at summer camp.

Yes, it’s a little wacky, but that’s what makes this show great. Brownstein and Armisen aren’t afraid to experiment and poke fun at bogus bourgeois trends. Not all of “Mixology” skits are winners, but when they tap into the right vein at the right time, it’s pure comedic gold.

The episode is a good start to season two, so maybe, this time, it’s okay to believe the hype.