Netflix Instant Review: Portlandia

December 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Finding a good move on Netflix is a good way to kill a couple of hours.  Falling in love with a new show on Netflix however can kill your social life.  When I finally decided to watch Mad Men, I went missing for a week and woke up in a Don Draper daze, lying in a ditch.

Luckily, IFC’s Portlandia only has six episodes on Netflix (and 3 on Hulu) and will only take up 120 or so minutes of your time if you love it as much as I do.  And I do love the shit out of it.

Portlandia, 150 out of 5 stars

I had no idea what to expect when I started to watch episode one.  The series premieres with a musical skit describing how series star Fred Armisen had just returned to L.A. from Portland, “a place where young people go to retire.”  The song, “The Dream of the 90s” is damn catchy and you won’t be able to get it out of your head when you  hear it.

But what was I watching?

I didn’t even know that Portlandia was a sketch show, so when it returned from the opening credits (that also features some good music and a fun and hip montage of Portland) with Armisen and other series star Carrie Brownstein, I was like “why are they THERE now?”

I finally caught on that this was a two-person sketch show, something that is quite hard to pull off but also gives us amazing magic like Mr. Show.  But how could a two-person show that specifically pokes fun at one kind of culture and one city possibly succeed?  How far could they take it by making fun of people from Portland, making fun of hippies and organic-loving hipsters?  Apparently pretty fucking successful, because it’s the best sketch show I have seen in years.

I have always loved Armisen, first taking notice of him in his episode-stealing turns on Saturday Night Live.  His Weekend Update characters like Fericito (“I’M JOST KIDDING!) and Native American comedian Billy Smith, gave me a reason to actually not fast-forward through Seth Myers.  But who was this guy, and what the hell is he?

He was like a Mexican Darrell Hammond, so good at not being himself that you wouldn’t take notice of him as a “star” or as a future big name.  And that’s mostly what Armisen has been; a face and not a name.  “Hey, you’re that guy that makes Anchorman eat cat poop!” I imagine people saying.

Armisen is actually half-Venezuelan, quarter-Japanese, and quarter-German.  That’s why I couldn’t figure out “what” he was, other than really fucking funny.  But a series star?

Well, Portlandia is so good that I wish it could be inside of me.

There is another aspect of the show though that can’t be ignored (Not counting Brownstein, which I will get to in a minute) which is that it does focus hard on some issues that may not appeal to a large portion of the population.  I can’t see this show being popular or even likable amongst most people who live in the South.  This is a show that will appeal to people in the Northwest, Los Angeles, and New York more than anything.  It pokes fun at Vegans and Hipsters and liberals.  Not something that’s nearly as prevalent in many parts of the country.

Or, you just have to really appreciate that Armisen and Brownstein can make anything funny, just with a look or an odd behavior. Oh yeah, the show is very odd and at times exhibits a perfect representation of absurdist comedy.  A sketch where Armisen and Brownstein are giving rules to their housesitter (played by Aubrey Plaza.  The show kills it with guest stars.) is one of the funniest sketches of anything I’ve ever seen, and is ridiculously absurd.

Some people will recognize Armisen’s partner in crime as the former guitarist for Northwest band Sleater-Kinney.  I am not one of those people, but the shows roots in alternative music (like guest appearances from Sarah McClachlan and Aimee Mann) is clear from the get-go.

Armisen was also a musician in the 90s, and was once a hopeful drummer that wanted to be a rock star before deciding to be a TV star.  He even was a part of The Blue Man Group (oddly, SNL alum and Portlandia guest star Jason Sudeikis was nearly in the Blue Man Group as well) until breaking through on SNL.

Brownstein somehow manages to work effortlessly perfect in contrast to Armisen, despite not having nearly the same kind of experience on television or films.  The chemistry between the two is what makes the show not just funny, but comforting to watch. I just want to stay inside all day, watch it, and feel good.  Coming from the Seattle-area, the show feels as right as a rainy day.

Which is why I can’t recommend the show to everybody.  The only thing I know is that if I’m recommending the show to myself I’d say “Dude, you HAVE to watch Portlandia.  It’s perfect for YOU.  It’s like it was created FOR YOU.” but I know that it’s not for everyone.

People on the right side of the political spectrum could appreciate the jokes against left-wing liberals, but truthfully the show is not for them.  The only way you could really get it, is to have lived it.  I lived it, so I LOVE it.  Portlandia makes me want to give Armisen a 10-second frencher, and I don’t even feel weird about saying that.

Here are more reasons to love Portlandia:

  • The only guest star that seems to be a regular is Kyle MacLachlan as the mayor of Portland.  I only know him from things like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, so I wouldn’t exactly call him “funny” from what I had ever seen him do before.  Well, he kills it in his role here almost as well as Rob Lowe does on Parks and Rec.  It’s a hilarious role (“Don’t make it like Seattle.”) and I hope he continues to show up.
  • Put a Bird On It.
  • Great music.
  • Steve Buscemi and other incredible guest stars.  I can only hope and imagine that being on Portlandia for a guest spot will be one of the “it” things to do right now for actors and actresses.
  • Fred Armisen in a very tiny sweater.

The show is kind of a mix of Mr. Show, Tim and Eric, and Children’s Hospital  (ehh: edit to read as Kids in the Hall.).  Which is like saying you had sex with a girl that’s a mix of Heather Graham, Sofia Vergara, and Playstation 3.

I actually have to consider getting IFC now just so I can be 100% sure that I’ll get to watch season two at the very moment that they air, starting in January.  Series director Jonathan Krisel actually comes from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, so the absurdism and excellent writing make sense.  Lorne Michaels produces the show because nobody from SNL is ever allowed to do anything with giving Michaels producing credits.

Though I can’t guarantee that YOU will love Portlandia, I recommend that you give it a shot.  Watch the first episode and see how it suits you.  Its possible that it will be the best new show you’ve seen this year or it’s possible that none of the comedy will appeal to you.  At the very least, I hope you can appreciate the talent of the series two stars in making a whole lot of something out of a very narrow topic: the dream of the nineties.

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