In the fourth episode of the second season, a poor kid named Grover gets forced through the rigamarole of applying to an elite pre-school. Meanwhile, some crust punks learn that small=cute and Kath and Dave get a new pet…
Dylan Garsee: "Elmo"
Wait, that's the name of the episode.
Nick: This episode of Portlandia kicked off with a sort-of Invasion of the Body Snatchers parody, where DJs are the invading force. Personally, I didn't think it was that funny or original, but I have to confess that I've felt the same way about the cities I've lived in, whether it's Vancouver or Austin. To paraphrase Cadence Weapon, everyone's a DJ and every party is destined to be great. Is this a side effect of how convenient music sharing is now? Is the annihilation of crate digging culture resulting in an Andy Warhol-like world where everyone thinks they can toss a mix?
Dylan: I hate being the one guy in my group of friends that "knows music" (barf) so I get automatically put on DJ duty. And without fail, every party ends up with "Oh my god, Dylan! All of your music is weird, why don't you just play music people know?!" Either my friends don't know what a DJ does, or I need new friends.
Dylan: I actually liked the opening sketch, I thought it's use of such a cliched basic sketch was great against the sort of new phenomenon of everyone thinking they're a DJ.
Nick: I think it was more effective as an idea than a sketch, though. It wasn't funny, other than the clever touches like a "rockabilly, hillbilly and psychobilly" DJ who goes under the name DJ CA$H. But it did effectively skewer a relatively new phenomena that is only annoying to people like us.
Dylan: That's sort of why I like Portlandia, it appeals to such a narrow section of the population, and it doesn't care.
Nick: But what's weird is it's becoming pretty popular. It's IFC's highest rated show, which I know is like saying "it's the zydeco channel's highest rated original program!" but still. And it's generating a ton of buzz in places like the New Yorker.
Dylan: And comicsbulletin.com!
Nick: What was funnier to me, and just as if not more accurate, was the gutter punks sketch. Portland is full of these kinds of people, for one, but I spent a while working for a youth center that was highly populated by crust punks and Fred and Carrie's performance was so spot on I could almost smell the BO. It was also a fairly traditional sketch on the surface but in typical Portlandia fashion, it got weird real quick, as the punks' initial idea of integrating a cute animal into the mix to make more money swiftly became a gag about taking "all small things are cute!" to the macrobiotic level.
Dylan: Amoeba's are cute! But I think this episode was successful in that it was full of cliches and stereotypes, but with the fun, weird twist of Portland and countercultures in general.
Nick: True, especially in the case of the overarching pre-school sketch, which took the extremely overdone comedy standby of "parents trying to get kid into an elite pre-school" to extreme new lengths, including an Errol Morris style documentary and some disturbing sexy times.
Dylan: "He actually said, ‘Daedalus’, And he went on to teach us about the Icarus myth" is probably my favorite line from all of the series so far.
Nick: That line was excellent on its own, but paired with the performance of the kid in question, it went into epic territory. It's something you actually have to see to get, but making the would-be pre-schooler a nearly mute child who doesn't seem to give even one fuck was either the most genius casting decision ever or a fluke that worked out in favor of the show.
Nick: Less effective was the Kath and Dave sketch, which involved the increasingly annoying couple going to a dogpark with their traumatized new dog, who just happens to have survived the tsunami that struck Japan. Cue the dog being given water a drop at a time and all things aquatic requiring censorship. The "Grover" sketch itself was better, but also somewhat uninteresting. It ran for too long and though it had some nice visual gags, it never culminated in anything all that interesting.
Dylan: I love to hate Kath and Dave. Every time their sketches come on, I just groan because they go on forever, and usually don't make me laugh. But when I think back on them, for some reason I think they're hilarious. How dave pours the water into the bowl to protect the tsunami-traumatized dog, how they forget, and subsequently abandon, the very dog they were so protective of just puts me in stiches.
Nick: The exit line "it smells like dog crap out here…" was great, and again, I like the basic idea, since these kids of idiots are all over the place in the PNW. But I just don't like recurring characters in general and I especially don't like recurring characters who don't have much substance to begin with. Kath and Dave are annoying on purpose, that's their schtick and I get that. But it doesn't exactly make me quiver with anticipation whenever they show up. That said, at least there wasn't a Women's Bookstore sketch this time out.
Dylan: That's where the Dwight spin off is going to take place.
He's going to manage the book store.
Nick: That would be amazing. I would actually watch that, just to see how hideous the whole affair would be.
Dylan: It would be like Whitney, only worse.
Nick: Way to take it too far, Dylan.
Dylan: Whitney is always too far.
Nick: Now that Whitney has permanently destroyed the mood, let's put a rating on this.
Dylan: I liked it, and it was a huge step up from last week, so stars. I liked the sketches this week, and although they may have fallen a little short, they were fun.
Nick: I know this is turning into a thing, but honestly I don't plan this in advance. I'm giving the episode , because I think the hit to miss ratio could have been better and I don't feel this was quite on the level of "great."
And now on to the second week we missed…
We get a different song about a different '90s as Mayor Kyle MacLachlan returns and tasks Fred and Carrie with redesigning the Portland PD uniforms into something warmer and hipper. Also crammed into things is a stop motion Fantastic Mr. Fox parody, a disagreement over musical taste at a children's school and a company devoted exclusively to distributing terrible, terrible art.
Nick: I've had time to really dwell on it and I'm going to just go ahead and say that I'm still not sure what I think about the cold open for this episode of Portlandia. On the one hand, I hate when jokes get needlessly revisited on sketch shows. On the other hand, having a song devoted to the wonders of the 1890's is so bizarre it's kind of amazing.
Dylan: Considering I think the 1890's captures the feeling of the whole culture of Portland much better than the 1990's, I loved the cold opening.
Nick: But then you've also got huge chunks of ominous modernism imposing itself on the skyline, with glass banking centers and cheeky faux-retro bars and frighteningly colorful condos.
Dylan: It's a strange/fascinating feeling living in a city people with Gangs of New York moustaches and old school bicycles changing the songs on their iPhone while they wait at a red light.
Nick: The song especially clicked for me in the moments of juxtaposition of those two clashing eras, where images could have fit in either and you wouldn't necessarily know the difference. Fred staring intensely at the camera while making sausage in front of a gaudy "MEAT" sign perhaps worked best in this regard.
Dylan: The song seemed like a funeral dirge, a total 180 from the Europop of original "The Dream of the 90's"
Nick: The cold open was also a bit of a red herring, though, as it was at odds with the tone of the rest of the episode, which saw the return of Mayor Kyle MacLachlan (yay!) and his decision to redesign the Portland PD uniforms after the cops interrupt "Trek in the Park" and get booed (not so yay).
Dylan: The set up for this episode seemed rather strange, even for Portlandia. I guess Fred and Carrie just needed another episode where Kyle MacLachlan tells them to change something.
There were little parts of the main sketch that I liked, but overall it fell kind of flat.
Nick: The whole episode felt very cobbled together. It was like a Frankenstein's Monster of sketch comedy, with bits and pieces that must have been left over from other episodes hastily assembled into one hideous being. The Fantastic Mr. Fox parody, for instance, wasn't bad on its own but didn't exactly fit into the mood of what came before it. It was extremely well done as a parody, matching the tone and style of the source perfectly, and it was full of great lines, like the rats' issues with mice and the concept of a packaging less grocery store.
Dylan: Exactly, it just felt like an episode they had to make to fill a quota. The only sketch I felt was anywhere close to being complete was the pre-school music argument that ended with Issac Brock
Dylan: Especially since they mentioned Neu!
Nick: That sketch was excellent and likely could have fit in with any episode of the season. I can also identify with the notion that musical taste is as important as any other kind of education.
Dylan: Most definitely. Music is a gateway to all other kinds of culture.
Nick: And drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Remember kids, good taste in music will make you cool as fuck, but you will also become a miserable bastard who can only distract himself from the depressive state of his life through the help of drugs, alcohol and more music.
But maybe I'm projecting here.
Dylan: I don't know what you're talking about.
Nick: That's only because you have a magical Tupac shirt that shields you from misery.
Nick: Speaking of misery, how about that terrible art in the "Bad
Art Good Walls" sketch?
Dylan: It reminded me of when I would judge student photography a few years ago.
Dylan: If I see one more black and white picture of a chain link fence…
Nick: Where do you find these jobs?
Nick: Now it all makes sense. This sketch was another that could have fit anywhere in the season, but I was glad it came here because it served as a nice pick me up from the others. It was well shot and acted, with more subtle performances than we usually see on Portlandia. And it was also more universal, I feel, since everyone who goes to cafes has experienced the phenomenon of utterly hideous art filling wallspace. In our particular case I am of course referring to Kerbey Lane, currently home to, I shit you not, caricature art of ugly pets.
And, uh, Prince
Dylan: I love kitch and camp, because these people obviously care about what they're creating. The just don't have the talent to pull it off. So seeing all of the bad art they pulled out made my little heart a flutter. I remember all of the bad pictures I used to take, and their equally bad names.
Nick: Is that why you always stalk old black men with your camera?
Dylan: Sure, let's go with that.
Nick: I still don't understand why you always ask them to take their clothes off, though.
Dylan: It's the only way I am able to leap, Nick.
Nick: Before this gets creepier, let's put a rating on this.
Dylan: I'll say stars. Not as good as last week, but had some classic sketches.
Nick: I'm going with as well. I wish it was more consistent, and the tone was fucked, but there were some really strong sketches in here.
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 at 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 and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and has contributed to No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.