Portlandia 2.07 & 2.08 Review

A tv review article by: Dylan Garsee, Nick Hanover

Joanna Newsom makes her debut on Portlandia, while yet another white, middle class suburban couple played by Fred and Carrie go about trying to figure out how to be cool again. Meanwhile, Nina and Lance return and creep out Dylan and a thrift store sketch is barely able to restrain itself from being completely vicious.

And in the following episode, we get treated to an overarching story about the feminist bookstore. Because that needed to happen.


Episode 2.07- "Motorcycling"



Just kidding, I love you Joanna.


Nick: How has it taken this long for Joanna Newsom to be on Portlandia?


Dylan: I have no idea. She's just strange enough, just old timey enough, and just famous enough that I thought that she would be a part of every episode.


I'm actually pleased to know that she doesn't speak like she sings. Even though I love her voice, it can be a little grating at some points.


Her guest spot reminded me of Aimee Mann's stint, how her music and those associated with it were the butt of the joke, rather than the actual person.



Nick: I felt it was a good move on Portlandia's part to keep Newsom's cameo so restrained rather than milking her guest appearance for all it's worth. Some critics have taken Portlandia to task this season for its over reliance on guest stars and I agree with that criticism to a certain extent, but I also think that in several aspects the guest stars have been a big part of the success of some of the season's best episodes, most notably the BSG episode, which was tremendously guest star heavy.


Dylan: The BSG episode was about over-saturation of pop culture, so the huge reliance of guests stars in that episode fit it thematically. This season has had a ton of guest stars, but they are mostly all used like Newsom: if you didn't know who they were, nothing was taken away from the humor. Like with Annie Clark, Isaac Brock, and the mayor of Portland himself, Sam Adams.


Nick: Has Portlandia ever really had a guest appearance that relied on you knowing much about the guest in question? Even the Aimee Mann episode worked well if you didn't know much about Aimee Mann. In fact, it may have even been funnier then.


Dylan: That's the brilliance of Portlandia, highlighting absolutely minute details of life, while brushing over something that other shows would exploit to no end.


Nick: That's especially true of the second sketch of the evening, which was basically a realistic depiction of trying to sell clothes to a thrift store.



Dylan: Portlandia sure knows how to accurately portray a clothing store; this is the second week in a row with a boutique themed sketch.


Nick: I enjoyed this sketch but I'm not sure I could accurately explain why. Part of it was how spot on it was. Part of it was the absurdity of the other cashier's creepy laugh. But most of it probably came down to how effectively Carrie played the straightman here, nailing the humiliation and frustration that's an integral component of this kind of commercial transaction.


Dylan: I think if we didn't have the bizarre laughter of the Yolandi Vi$$er-esque associate, then this sketch would have just felt really mean.


Also, the only people who wear those hats are people who talk way too much about Ron Paul.


Nick: Well, Ron Paul doesn't have as much of a hold on Portland as he does Austin. So you may be surprised on that front. What'd you think of the Facebook sketch?


Dylan: Honestly, Nina and Lance irritate me more than the feminist book store owners.


Nick: Is it the voices?


Dylan: I think it's the voices.



Nick: Carrie Brownstein with a modified man voice is definitely not a turn on. And I say that as someone who's had a crush on Carrie Brownstein since he was 13.


Dylan: If Fred and Carrie kept their regular voices, it would be so much more unsettling and hilarious, almost crossing into David Lynch territory. But as Kirk Lazarus famously said, "Never Go Full Retard"


Nick: Oh, you mean David Lynch territory like this? 


Dylan: Is it bad that I knew exactly what that video was going to be before I opened it?


Nick: Friendship is knowing what terrible video you're about to be sent before it's even sent.


Or friendship is munching on a well cooked face together. I'm never sure which it is.



Dylan: I'm looking for an appropriate My Little Pony image for this.



Nick: The Facebook sketch was admittedly a bit of low hanging fruit and likely the worst effort of the evening. But the follow-up, "Boyfriend Sitter," was one of my favorite bits of the entire season. What'd you think of it?


Dylan: The boyfriend sketch was absolutely beautiful.


Nick: Everyone knows a couple like that, right? Or am I just surrounded by a plethora of people in those kinds of relationships?


Dylan: I only hang out with elderly alcoholics, so I'm not sure.


Nick: For the last time Dylan, I am 25, not 75.


Dylan: It's hard to tell age with white people.


Nick: Point.


What worked for me about this sketch is how well it skirted the line between outright ridiculous and depressingly accurate. When Fred was chastised for playing the drums too loudly despite the fact that he owns the drums and the house and should be able to play them whenever he wants, I instantly thought of the ridiculous number of friends I have who are parented within their own romantic relationships. Then Fred crawled up the stairs on his hands and knees and all I could think of was the torturous times when my parents forced me to babysit my little brother, who also liked to kick at his bedroom window and scream to the neighbors that he had been kidnapped and was now being starved.


Dylan: It was a great sketch from beginning to end, because it never got too ridiculous, because the fact that a grown man needed a baby sitter was ridiculous enough. The situations that played out afterward, even the elderly woman vomiting in the front yard, was subdued-- by Portlandia standards anyway.


Nick: The part where the babysitter drunkenly awoke, surrounded by beer cans, was equally excellent. It was some weird combination of badass, stupidly funny and sad. And I loved it.


What'd you think of the overarching sketch this week?


Dylan: I was underwhelmed, but then the end paid off so well that I forgave the rather boring beginning.


Even though I want that uni-motorcycle that Carrie (for obvious reasons) couldn't ride.



Nick: The uni-motorcycle part was easily the funniest element of the sketch, but I perhaps overly enjoyed the ongoing 9/11 riff and the solution to Fred not remembering where he was. I know 9/11 humor is everywhere now, but Portlandia found a suitably fresh take on it and it was nice to see it framed in a way that mocked American intelligentsia comforts.


Dylan: Honestly, the sketch had no direction at all, and I bet made absolutely no sense at the table reading for it, but for some reason, everything fell into place.


Nick: It was like a Portlandia twist on that creepy old Will Ferrell SNL sketch, with the hot tub, and the pretentious swingers, and Rachel Dratch.



Dylan: I want to see a Portlandia take on an Aristocrats joke.


I have a feeling it would be beyond beautiful.


Nick: I have a feeling that would destroy civilization as we know it.


Dylan: Can there be a Comics Bulletin aristocrat-off?


I don't know if the world can handle what I'd say.


Nick: What, exactly, would the winner of that receive?


Dylan: The title of Sultan of Comics Bulletin.


Nick: Actually, that would make for an interesting day on twitter.


Dylan: It has to happen.


Alright, so what do you want to give this fine episode?


Nick: I'm gonna go , which is like a normal person's .


Dylan: I'm feeling a , which is a woman's .


Nick: Oh shit. Hell must have just frozen over.


Dylan: Wait, are all of my teeth loose?




Okay, this is real life then.




Dylan: You shouldn't have denied the bank loan to that gypsy.


Nick: It's not my fault her credit score was so low.


She shouldn't have gotten suckered into the home shopping network during her midlife crisis.


Episode 2.08- "Feminist Bookstore 10th Anniversary"

Nick: So, I'm still alive. I know this doesn't sound like a big deal or anything but I was pretty sure if I ever had to watch an episode of Portlandia devoted mostly to the feminist bookstore I'd shoot myself in the face. And yet somehow I came away from "Feminist Bookstore 10th Anniversary" mostly unscathed. How about you, Dylan? Still breathing?


Dylan: I'm alive as well, surprisingly.


Considering the first two sketches (besides the cold opening) were my two least favorite recurring characters, I was strangely not suicidey.


Nick: The cold open was one of the stronger sketches of the evening, a dig at the ever growing number of recycling/composting/landfilling bins in cities like Portland. I'm not sure how much of a "thing" this is in non-PNW places, but when I was in Seattle, there were constant battles over how much composting was too composting and where to draw the line between confusion and practicality. 


Nick: Seattle being Seattle, impracticality always won out and most of the time nothing would ever happen anyway because the city was too busy hiring "consultants" to tell them how to spend all the money they would have if they didn't keep hiring consultants.


But we seriously had ads like that one, telling people what those color coded bins you could only find hidden away in sketchy alleyways were for and why you could wind up with a ticket if you didn't keep your yellow and blue bin items separate. We unfortunately did not have a machine that converted waste to "good vibes," though.

Dylan: I'm about 98% sure that the insane amount of recycling bins was also a Penn & Teller Bullshit! "experiment." But Portlandia replaced the smug assholeness and Libertarianism with surrealism and humor.


Nick: This was a good if not quite great cold open, with a breezy, simple concept and excellent character chemistry, but it led into the Copy Pilot sketch, which I felt was thin. Copy Pilot featured yet more recurring characters, this time with Peter and Nance, a couple I can barely tell apart from Kath and Dave. I'm getting a little concerned by how recurring character heavy Portlandia has become, because, I mean, come on-- this show is set in Portland, a decent sized city with tons of quirky people, do we really need to spotlight a handful of couples who are basically interchangeable?


Dylan: I was so excited to see my favorite background character in the Copy Pilot skit. Last time we saw the silent employee, he was shrunk to the size of an espresso cup and got yelled at by the magical Harijuku girls.


Nick: He's kind of like the Oren of Portlandia, which is a very, very good thing.



Dylan: "I don't know when I'm going to die, Oren."


Honestly, I can't tell the difference between all the different middle aged couples in the universe of Portlandia.


But all white people look the same to me, so that could just be me.


Nick: It'd be one thing if they were played by different actors, but Carrie and Fred can only look so different with slightly altered hairdos and clothing choices. It's also disappointing that Portlandia has begun to lean so heavily on the white, middle class, semi-suburban element of Portland rather than the more urban centered focus it's had previously. Is this a symptom of it being IFC's breakout hit? Should we begin to count on more whitebread and less sourdough? That is maybe the worst metaphor I have ever made.


Dylan: It's a good thing I didn't make that Duncan Sheik reference I was going to make earlier, because that bread metaphor beats all other shitty rhetorical devices.


I know there's other parts of Portland that haven't been explored, much darker sides. Are Carrie and Fred brave enough to tackle an episode about the motorcycle meth gangs that are prevalent in Portland?


Nick: Or strip clubs. Every time I go to Portland my friends try to get me to go check out Portland's massive strip club culture. How has that not been mined by Portlandia yet but we got yet another Kath and Dave in the outdoors sketch? Right after their freakishly similar altar ego couple hit up Copy Pilot, no less.


Dylan:  Everything about tonight felt off balance. Too many Kath and Dave-like characters, not enough variation. Quickly escalating surreal sketches/really shitty payoff. And worst of all, as in every week, the feminist book store owners.

Not even the amazing Penny Marshall could save them from being annoying.



Nick:  The center sketch was far less terrible than I expected it to be, though. Seeing Penny Marshall shacked up with Portland Trailblazer LaMarcus Aldrige was entertaining for the first little bit, but I was not-so-secretly hoping that Candace would actually set the bookstore on fire and kill herself in the process. I don't care how terrible that sounds.


Dylan:  They're not real people. You can wish death upon them; nothing will happen.


Except I'd be a lot happier when I watch Portlandia.


Nick:  The overall feeling I got from this episode was one gigantic "meh." Nothing too bad, nothing too great, just a lot of content that ran together and didn't provoke me one way or the other. There was that oddly unfulfilling E.T./Super 8 parody with the Dorian fruit that liked to rearrange furniture. Which also featured a now patently generic Portlandia white suburban couple. There was that completely unremarkable aerobics sketch about lawsuits or something. And there was that blues guitar wielding couple playing at the bookstore's party that I initially thought was supposed to be an Indigo Girls riff. And...well, that was it, really.


Dylan:  I can't tell if the reason I'm not being my normal snarky self is due to me not sleeping for the past week, or the fact that this was a rather boring and safe episode, even with the magical Dorian fruit.


I'm going to blame the feminists, as I usually do.


Nick:  It's more than a little disappointing that as Portlandia closes in on the season finale, it's getting boring. I'd rather see trainwreck episodes that reach ambitiously for high up comedy fruit instead of continuing with this low hanging bullshit that I can't be bothered to respond to.


Dylan:  I think since the second season is longer than the first, we're now realized how formulaic this show is. Six episodes is the perfect amount for such a focused show. Now that we're on number eight, it's getting a little grating.


Nick:  I'm hoping that Portlandia will start getting a little braver in its choice of subjects. If season three is all annoying suburban couples, I will actually shoot myself in the face. And you don't want that on your conscience, Fred and Carrie. 


So, rating?


Dylan:  Since Portlandia gave us a totally middle-of-the-road episode, I'm going to do the same with the score: 


Nick:  Same here. And thus concludes this amazingly exciting review of this amazingly exciting episode.


Dylan:  Exciting episodes=Exciting reviews


Boring episodes=Boring reviews


You're hurting more than yourself, Portlandia.

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.

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