One of the greatest disappointments in television, for me at least, is that certain shows do not get the recognition or the appreciation they deserve. Portlandia, created by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, is one of those programs. The brilliant and uncanny combination of satire and comedy that musician Brownstein and Saturday Night Live comedian and musician Armisen bring to this sketch show is unparalleled and, frankly, deserves more love than it gets.
The premise of Portlandia is a sketch comedy show in Portland that highlights personalities and reoccurring characters in a non narrative way. In this way, it is much like the show Fred Armisen currently stars on, SNL. Yet unlike SNL, the show seems to not only hone a much homier and local feel, but is constantly called “quirky.” Portlandia is so…’quirky’ - even the New York Times falls into the pattern.
And by quirky, people mean alternative. Hipster. They mean to say that the show is feeding off the wave of modern day hippies that find joy in dressing like its the 80s and listening to music literally three people have heard of. This, as Fred Armisen, is “the dream of the 90s,” and it’s alive in Portland.
Not to say the show is hipster to any degree. In fact, to me it feels more SNL, as if all the sketches and characters that never make it to air are funnelled into Armisen’s show.
The show focuses less on jokes and oneliners and more on drawing laughter from motions and everyday conversations. Portlandia has almost no jokes, and rightfully so. I believe the show was built a style of humor that SNL used to rely more on: the notion that what people do and what they say in an everyday context can be inherently funny. In some ways, this is almost funnier for me because the comedians act as if what they are doing is totally serious, yet this very fact makes me crack up. There really is nothing like seeing Fred Armisen become a character, and Carrie Brownstein is a perfect match for him in Portlandia.
So now we have all these characters that TV has never seen before in sketches that starkly resemble what people do in real life and challenge everyone’s notions of cliques. Instead, Portlandia draws everything from “Biker Rights!” to “Feminist Bookstore” to “Where does this chicken come from?” to take what would perhaps be considered hipster today and turn it on its head.
And I don’t even want to start with all the musical sketches we hear, which are masterful and appropriate seeing as both Fred and Carrie are musicians. These musical sketches are brilliant. “ThunderAnt,” for example, parody a variety of musical styles. The best part is that the duo think that they are creating groundbreakingly amazing music, which, from what viewers can see, simply is not true. In one such sketch, they are recording songs on each others voice mails - its just ridiculously amusing and unbelievable, and that’s what makes it good.
What sets this show apart is not only its brilliant manipulation of stereotypes, but its artful and hilarious portrayal of everyday people. There’s something beautifully raw about Fred and Carrie’s ability to build a show that points out and draws humor from the current wave of alternative culture. And for it to be actually funny, for people to be able to laugh at the Put a Bird on It sketch and the Biker Rights sketch, shows some sort of acceptance by the public that the show addresses the heart of all the “quirky” things we do. So if Portlandia is considered “quirky,” it’s only because the show brings out this entire universe of alternative which, for lack of a better word, is quirky. One of Portlandia’s greatest success stories is that two of the most diverse and funniest comedians of all time, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen (and Fred in particular), bring to TV a show that allows us to laugh at ourselves.
# portlandia # portlandia review # portlandia tv review # tv review # tv recap # television review # television blog # tv blog # fred armisen # carrie brownstin # carrie and fred # thunderant # carrie brownstein # critic # critique
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