Local artisan curators Lisa and Bryce realize that they can pickle everything; Fred helps Carrie chase a romantic mixologist (Andy Samberg) who forgets his roots when he moves from Portland to LA; Fred and Carrie stop to eat at a theme restaurant with a difficult waiter (Kumail Nanjiani); Kath and Dave's emergency signals are tested when they go river rafting; Feminist shopkeepers Toni and Candice teach an A/C repairman about the "phallus" and "opposite of a phallus" inside all of us.
Portlandia airs Fridays at 10 on IFC.
Nick Hanover: Portlandia returned for its second season with a mini-crossover with the Lonely Island…sort of. The second season's premier found Carrie and Fred coming across a floppy haired "mixologist" played by Andy Samberg, who makes a drink of pure love for Carrie and then promptly leaves town to work at The Windjammer in SoCal. Cue Carrie and Fred heading off to SoCal so Carrie can give Andy a "mix drinks" mixtape.
Dylan Garsee: Is it bad that I recognized the specific brand of ice that Andy used in the drink? I need to get out more.
"Dylan's Mixology Class Finally Pays Off"
Nick: I didn't know there were "brands" of ice. The more I hang out with you, the more I learn about subjects I didn't even know existed.
Dylan: Yeah, I'm like that kid from the end of St. Elsewhere. Except with ice.
Nick: Speaking of odd liquid obsessions, I thought Portlandia's cold open this week was pretty stellar. It was a twist on the sketch comedy fallback of recurring characters, with the Put a Bird On It! couple now moving their focus to home pickling.
Dylan: I thought it was great too, and it's sad that I can see people doing those things, pickling dead pets and what not.
Nick: Well, being from the South, I'm sure you're already well aware of the world of home pickling. I don't know how Beaumont was, but there are whole swaths of Florida where people set up sketchy shacks along the interstate and will sell you anything remotely food-like as a pickle.
Dylan: Nah, Beaumont hasn't caught up to home pickling yet. Maybe whenever people get twitter accounts, then home pickling will take off.
Nick: Maybe it's time for you to bring home pickling to Beaumont.
Dylan: I think what gets me the most, though, is the characters' names; they're always absurd but not absurd to the point where they aren't believable.
Nick: Fred and Carrie do have a knack for great PNW names. Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman are a perfect example here, especially the former. With names like that, it's like they were born into pointless DIY hobbies.
Nick: But as great as the pickling sketch was, I have to say that the main "storyline" episode left me a little underwhelmed. Andy Samberg did a fine job basically playing a dialed down Lonely Island character, but there wasn't much payoff for the sketch in the end outside of the obvious narrative mapping it provided.
Dylan: Yeah, I was really disappointed that he was so underused as Andy Samberg. The show usually uses its guests very well, like Kyle Mclaughlin and Aimee Mann, but Samberg was just kind of there.
Nick: Aimee Mann still holds the title of Best Portlandia Guest, so it will be tough for anyone to top her, and McLaughlin was the show's secret weapon last season. Hopefully he'll be returning.
Dylan: I did like how there was the oh so brief call back to the We Can Pickle That! sketch in the mixologist bit too. Reminded me of Upright Citizen's Brigade.
Nick: There were good moments in the mixology sketch, to be sure, but I just felt like as a whole it left something to be desired. I wasn't too sure about the show leaving Portland for the episode either, especially since it initially seemed like it would lead to a lot of obvious California gags, like when Fred and Carrie are terrified of the sun and how it will affect their pasty complexions.
But then it went in some characteristically weird directions, with the two donning burqas to cover themselves up and winding up at the world's most complicated restaurant.
Dylan: I used to work in a chain restaurant, and that scene hit too close to home for me. It's great that they're coming back to old skits, but going far enough to where they feel new, with the We Can Pickle That! being a reference to the Let's Put a Bird on It! and the actor that played the overly-complicated waiter played the overly-complicated cell phone seller from the first season.
Nick: It did help that Kumail Nanjiani played their server, essentially revisiting his cellphone salesman role from last season. Actually, there was a lot of subtle revisiting going on in this premier, including World's Most Annoying Couple Dave and Cath trying to go intertubing.
Dylan: It's still strange seeing Carrie Brownstein in a polo and cargo shorts. I'm used to her yelling at me in Sleater-Kinney.
Nick: I've been really impressed with her range on this show, especially since she will always be first and foremost my favorite member of Sleater-Kinney. But she seems especially willing to go out there and get herself dirty for sketches, which a lot of non-comedians and newcomers aren't usually up to. I'm not really a fan of the Dave and Cath sketches and this one was no exception, but her series of odd intertubing poses and general ineptitude got a chuckle or two.
Dylan: Yeah, that felt very much like an SNL sketch that isn't very funny in the first place, yet goes on and on and on.
I'm looking at you, Gilly.
"A Scene from Dylan's Nightmares"
Nick: I love that Kristen Wiig came out in an interview and said that she now refuses to do half of the characters she plays on SNL.
Dylan: That's fantastic. Now if only they could do that with everyone but Stefon, SNL would be great again.
Nick: The biggest surprise for me this week was the Feminist Bookstore sketch. I'm not normally a fan of that sketch– it was easily the worst recurring gag of last season in my opinion– but here it worked. A large part of that was the performance of the guy playing the air conditioner repairman, who was so sweet and innocent, which took Fred and Carrie's performances to another level. It could have been cringe inducing in a non-funny way but it was the right balance of awkward and charming. The key line was his reply to Carrie's assertion that everyone has a fe
minine side, delivered with a gigantic toothy grin: "Well, I really like gals"
Dylan: I remember watching the first season as it aired– because I had nothing else better to do on Friday nights (except go to the bingo hall, but that was at 10:30 at night, long after Portlandia aired)– and I loved the book store owners, especially the sketch with Aubrey Plaza. However, in preparation for the new season, I rewatched the series over, and realized how annoying the book store owners actually were. This episode did strike a balance with them, because the AC repairman was so sweet and funny.
Nick: I think part of the problem is that Feminist Bookstore is one of the few character sketches that existed before Portlandia was on IFC, so it's like Fred and Carrie have a loyalty to them. Admittedly, the pre-Portlandia version of the sketch was pretty funny and from what I understand it was a large part of what got them the show, but for me that sketch is always way too close to the kind of thing you see on SNL. It's full of easy targets and usually runs way too long and I think Portlandia, when it's operating at peak efficiency, is above that kind of comedy. I watch Portlandia because it's this unique hybrid of scarily realistic and overwhelmingly weird, like if Tim and Eric were to have a real life travel show that only focused on relatively mundane alt locations. The petition sketch from this episode, for instance, mined that sensibility to great effect, leading the viewer on with a relatively normal sketch beginning before adding on weirder and weirder ingredients and climaxing with a grown ass man sitting in a baby car seat while his grandparents and parents all drove off to get ice cream.
Dylan: Even though this show is already a season in, it still feels like that it hasn't found its footing. My favorite episode of the last season was the Blunderbuss episode because not only did it have the one episode-long sketch about the musician who's playing for the fest, yet can't find where she's playing, it also had separate sketches that used the music festival as a backdrop. I know I keep comparing it to this show, but Portlandia, I believe anyway, would benefit from an Upright Citizen's Brigade-like structure, where each episode has a theme, and each sketch is a variation on that theme. While UCB did have a few bad sketches (Mogomra and the Fart Monster) it still had a very unique format that would fit Portlandia perfectly.
Nick: UCB is hands down the most underrated sketch comedy program of all-time. Everyone could benefit from watching more of it. But I agree, Portlandia works best when the episodes have a narrative arc that helps coordinate everything else. From what I've heard, there will be more of that this season, with the next episode focusing on Fred and Carrie getting obsessed with Battlestar Galactica. But I think the real key here is for the narrative to have a genuine pay off. We got that with "The Mayor Is Missing" last season, but in this debut, the narrative led up to a musical number that was quirky but not exactly hilarious. If you're going to try to give your sketch comedy show some narrative structure, you need to make sure it leads up to a punchline that truly delivers.
Dylan: Upright Citizen's Brigade is the reason Tuvok is my favorite Star Trek character. Speaking of musical numbers, the one that closes the episode was very disappointing in comparison with the other musical numbers in Portlandia. From "The Dream of the 90's" song, to the over the phone song ideas that Carrie and Fred bounced off each other that lead to the death of an obese man by electrocution, the musical numbers have always been top notch. But the California bar ballad seemed stapled on, like they had no idea how to end the episode. I imagine Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman just told the writers "Let's Put a Song on it!"
Nick: I kept waiting for that song to build to some kind of parody of a Lonely Island parody, thus creating an infinite loop of bizarre musical parodies. But no such luck.
That said, I would totally be down for a whole episode of Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman becoming the "Let's Put a Song On It!" people and turning every sketch into a musical. Feel free to hire us, Portlandia team.
Dylan: Or we could do a spin-off, "Austinites" It would just be sketches from Portlandia that take place in Halcyon instead of Mint Bar.
Nick: Every episode would climax with the Sexy Saxman chasing us down in the streets.
Dylan: Sexy Sax Man and Leslie, chasing us down South Lamar.
Nick: And now you've forced me to track down a picture of Leslie for this article. Thanks Dylan.
Nick: So, what are you rating this episode?
Dylan: I'd give it a 3 out of 5. It wasn't a great episode, but I got some giggles, and I wasn't disappointed in myself for watching it. What about you?
Nick: That's what I was thinking too. Not great, not terrible and it leaves plenty of room for the rest of the season to improve things.
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights a pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.