My wife and I live in Salem, a.k.a. "So-lame," Portland's dowdy, plain, uncool neighbor to the south. We wish our city could be half as ravishingly interesting as Portland is. No, one-tenth as interesting.
Heck, give us any little slice of Portland and we'd devour it hungrily. (Salem just got it's first Trader Joe's store, eons after Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene got theirs. We still don't have a true vegetarian restaurant, much less a vegan one.)
So we really want to enjoy IFC's "Portlandia."
We watched every episode of Season 1, chuckling only episodically. It kept seeming like Portlandia was on the verge of being a spot-on laugh-worthy satire of Portland's cultural quirks, but the cable series never got there.
I blogged last February:
The saying, Keep Portland Weird, is truthful.
Portland is weird in many wonderful ways. Once in a while Portlandia manages to successfully satirize those quirks, such as in the opening episode where a hipster couple grill their restaurant server about how happily the chicken they're considering ordering was raised.
Problem is, most of the time Portlandia is absorbed in its own self-reflective cinematic weirdness. It's sort of satirizing itself, which isn't funny. Meaning, typically the sketches don't make fun of some green/ environmental/ progressive/ cultural Portland excess, but are over-the-top in their own right.
Like, in the most recent episode, the mayor asking the main characters to form a baseball team, which they do in a wholly unrealistic manner. Or the sketch where the stars are chefs getting photographed for a magazine story, and start posing in increasingly bizarre ways.
What's that got to do with Portland? It was good acting, but ultimately uncomedic -- except in a "that was really weird" sense. Again, Portland's weirdness is getting lost in Portlandia's own weirdness, causing the original premise of the series to be forgotten.
Watching the first episode of Season 2, I feel that everything I said before still applies. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, the couple who appear in various guises throughout Portlandia, would start off with a promising sketch premise.
Greenies who consider they can pickle anything. Outdoorshumans who arrive at an air mattress-friendly river over-prepared for white water. A nightspot "mixologist" who is way too into the intricacies of cocktail preparation.
In each case I was prepared to laugh at the humor in the situation. Playing the sketch more subtly, not desperately milking it for laughs, that would have been much more comedic than -- as noted above -- steadily ratcheting up the ridiculousness until the original premise got lost in excessive craziness.
The only part of the first episode that got my wife and me laughing out loud was the scene in a southern California restaurant where Armisen and Brownstein just want some simple food, and the waiter (oops, "server") keeps leading them through complicated menu options.
I wish every sketch in Portlandia could be played like this one was. Most viewers could identify with the situation, having encountered similar trendy restaurants and best-friend servers. The dialogue was just slightly on the zany side of believable, not on the outer limits. I could easily visualize something like this ordering disaster actually happening.
But otherwise my wife and I kept asking each other, "Is that supposed to be funny?" For us, it wasn't. Hopefully Portlandia will find its groove in later episodes. Portland deserves to be made fun of.
You forgot the moment they stepped out of the cab in SoCal. "What is that thing in the sky! Argh my skin!" Classic. Also the kid going door to door with a cause he knew nothing about, being overly mothered. "We all know plastic bags cause pelican cancer." Portland, Spot-on. Maybe you should come back up here, get out of Salem.
Posted by: Dan | January 11, 2012 at 09:14 AM
You couldn't be more correct in your analysis. I don't know Portland, I've never been there, furthermore I know absolutely nothing about its culture. From an uninformed individuals standpoint I too keep asking myself "is that supposed to be funny?" I kind of figured maybe it was liberal humor that as a conservative I just didn't get, or maybe it was artistic and I was missing it. But I really don't think it's either of those as they do make fun if over liberalised issues on a regular basis, and overly sensative things fairly consistantly. But the episodes do start out going in one direction and never truly end with closure or progress the themes they introduce in the begining. Maybe that's the point though, and the show is non linear and the deviations are simply seperate sketches. I watch the show not simply because it's on TV, but because while most of the time not causing laughs, it is original. It's one of those shows that could, if it finds it's pulse, and developes, be funny and interesting.
Two of the greatest shows to ever air on TV, cheers and sienfeld, were very slow to take off, but they were backed by their networks, and are simply testaments to how entertaining a program can be. In a day and age when we demand instant gratification and most shows aren't given the time to develope, it's nice to see a program like portlandia has been given a chance to develope. If cheers or sienfeld were fresh on the networks today, they'd be canceled after 6 episodes. Something to think about.
Posted by: Ben | February 08, 2013 at 10:37 PM
I think the we're missing the big picture here. While the show was based on Portland's "weird" energy and culture, the show has to be adapted to it's "lore" and not it's accuracy.
Truth be told, if the show actually depicted Portland in a more fair manner, it just wouldn't be funny.
In fact, as someone who lives outside of the entire North Western experience, this show, through it's exaggeration, KIND OF makes me want to MOVE to this area for the layers of sweet, caught in between the crazy.
Just my nickel.
Posted by: BeetFarmer | August 22, 2015 at 08:33 AM