TV News

Portlandia Renewed for 2 More Seasons – Yet We Still Can’t Completely Get Into This Show

There shall be many more things upon which to put a bird, apparently, because IFC has announced that sketch-comedy show Portlandia has been renewed for two more seasons.  As announced through the IFC blog (although originally reported by The Hollywood Reporter), the new seasons will be the show’s fourth and fifth, each season running 10 episodes long, and airing in early 2014 and 2015 respectively.  Here is what the president and general manager of IFC said about the renewal:

Portlandia has celebrated sustainable local agriculture, underemployment, avian crafting, gender politics, intense bicycle messengers and so much more.  We can now celebrate two more seasons.”

Portlandia stars SNL‘s Fred Armisen (who is now one of those long-running cast members of SNL you’ve assumed left the show long ago, although it is rumored the recent season will have been his last) and Sleater-Kinney/Wild Flag guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein.  It is based upon Armisen and Brownstein’s respective experiences living in the town of Portland, Oregon, which they described in the show’s first ever sketch as the place “young people go to retire”:

At the time the show premiered in 2011, Brownstein had been on a hiatus from her day job as a badass indie rock star, instead blogging about music for NPR and appearing as a regular panelist with Stephen Thompson, Robin Hilton, and Bob Boilen on NPR’s All Songs Considered.  Armisen was well known for Saturday Night Live, although probably most known as that guy who wasn’t African-American yet still played Barack O’Bama because the cast wasn’t diverse enough to offer another option.  Brownstein and Armisen are long-time friends, having something in common due to his background as a musician (well, he’s a drummer – insert drummer in rock band joke here).  On the show, they play fictionalized versions of themselves in addition to also playing almost all of the recurring characters.

Although immensely popular in certain circles, Portlandia is not an easy show to get into.  It trades in a very, very specific brand of humor which anyone not already immersed in or aware of the liberal lifestyle of a town like Portland might find cool to the touch. For example, there are recurring sketches involving owners of a lesbian book store, but it is much funnier if you know the sketch is based upon a real lesbian book store in Portland or at least have lived in an area where kooky independent book stores with quirky owners still exist.  This is the show’s stock and trade, but is the material most likely to alienate those who can’t relate.

Thankfully, not everything they do is hyper-specific to Portland.  They also routinely skewer the way in which we now consume media, with a dinner party derailed by couples warring over the discussion of spoilers of television shows and a couple completely losing themselves (and their jobs and eventually their electricity) to marathon-viewing of the entirety of Battlestar Galactica:

Not only can I relate to the “just one more episode” phenomenon of binge-viewing I had practically that exact same experience with Battlestar Galactica.  Well, pretty close at least – at my table reading for my unique script for a continuation of the show Edward James Olmos and James Callis were no-shows.

Kyle MacLachlan, at his Twin Peaks quirkiest, recurs on the show as the Mayor of Portland who just really wants to play bass in his reggae band, often leaving Fred and Carrie behind to run the town in his wake.  That’s usually pretty great.  Also, I am duty-bound as a Pearl Jam fan to report that in the second season Brownstein had a sketch where she dated a guy who had a tattoo of Eddie Vedder, which Carrie imagined singing the first bars of “Even Flow” to her every time she looked at it.   Based upon advice from Armisen, she just started dating the real Eddie Vedder, but he turned out to also have an unfortunate tattoo of his own.  If this tattoo humor is doing nothing for you (and the idea probably reads funnier than it played on screen) then Portlandia probably ain’t for you.

Carrie Brownstein and Eddie Vedder, two serious musicians who are secretly funny, former drama class nerds.
Carrie Brownstein and Eddie Vedder, two serious musicians who are secretly funny, former drama class nerds.

In its most recent season, Portlandia weaved a serialized storyline throughout, culminating in a season finale featuring an event which uniformly impacted all of the recurring characters.  This serialization was most notable in the form of Chloe Sevigny as a girl who moves in with Fred and Carrie only to cause friction between the two once they each find themselves fancying her (Brownstein is reportedly bi-sexual in real life, reflected in the fictionalized version of her on the show having both straight and lesbian relationships).  This was a love triangle gradually established from sketch-to-sketch, episode-to-episode.  This attempt to do something more with the sketch comedy format was an incredibly welcome surprise, just as it was when Nick Kroll did the same thing with the first season of The Kroll Show earlier this year.

Like any sketch show, Portlandia is frustratingly hit and miss, and Armisen is usually better off playing himself or a straight man as opposed to donning a wig and adopting an affected voice.  The humor on display too often speaks only to a very specific temperament and set of life experiences, and as a result is the definition of a show with a very niche audience.  However, there is an admirable level of ambition on hand (at least after this last season), and it is certainly capable of being pretty funny. Although I can’t completely get into the show, there is enough there to like that I keep watching.

The first 2 seasons of Portlandia are currently available to stream on Netflix.  You can view many, many clips from the 3 seasons of the show at Hulu or just go to  IFC has a fun series of videos in which comedian Kumail Nanjiani tours the various locations in the real city of Portlandia which have inspired various sketches of the fictional Portland in Portlandia.

What do you think?  Is Portlandia just not for you?  Or are you dying to see what becomes of Portlandia after the last season ended with the city-wide … wait.  Spoilers.  Let us know in the comments.


    1. That’s cool. I can’t say that I love Portlandia, but I definitely like it. Like most sketch shows, it’s pretty hit or miss for me, and a lot of the misses are probably down to me just not relating to the hyper-specific thing they are skewering. Then again, some of my favorite hits are probably of the same variety, such as the marathon of Battlestar Galactica or a restaurant which has WAY too much information about the life of the animal you’re about to eat.

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