Geiger's Culture Counter: Keep Portland weird
Tomorrow marks an end for an era at IFC. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s “Portlandia” will air its 77th and final episode that night. The dream of the 90s may live on in Oregon’s version of Boulder, but the sketch-show version of that dream unfortunately won’t.
Shot in Portland and hiring Portland residents for crewmembers—the city’s real mayor even plays the assistant for fictional mayor Kyle MacLachlan—the half-hour comedy follows Armisen and Brownstein portraying various characters in hilarious situations filled with satirical stereotypes. There are the hipsters Spyke and Iris, gender-swapped Nina and Lance, feminist bookstore owners Candace and Toni, the REI-obsessed Dave and Kath and more.
The style is more quirky than laugh-out-loud funny, but it always makes me smile. Additionally, I discovered how strangely accurate it is when visiting Portland for the first time two years ago I saw a guy walking down the street with a blue parrot on his arm.
The success of the show opened the door for other scripted programs on the network. It gave us two podcast-inspired shows, Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watt’s talk show spoof “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and Marc Maron’s aptly named “Maron,” along with the odd and hysterical “The Spoils of Babylon” and “Garfunkel and Oates.” Sadly those have all ended and “Portlandia” will soon join them.
In honor of the series finale, here are some of my favorite sketches and episodes.
"Farm" — Adorkable Peter and Nance were introduced to the masses in the first sketch of the very first episode seven years ago. Like a pair of eager dogs they dive deep into foodie culture when eating out at an organic restaurant. The two keep asking exactly how local the food is, forcing their waitress to return with detailed papers on the life of Colin, the chicken they want to eat. They aren't exactly satisfied, leave the restaurant and go 30 miles south to Aliki Farms to see the chickens' habitat for themselves. Turns out the farmer runs a cult, which they join, and I can't think of a more perfect sketch to set the tone for the show.
Put a Bird on It — However, there may be a more iconic skit. Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman take the home and fashion trend of avian imagery a bit far. They head to a random boutique in Portland to paint and paste birds on every item in the shop. The scene's catchphrase has arguably become more popular than the show itself. Naturally, they freak out when an actual bird enters the store.
"One Moore Episode" — Doug and Claire decide to watch Ronald D. Moore's acclaimed space opera "Battlestar Galactica" before a birthday party but it quickly spirals into a marathon that destroys their lives. After the finale they track down the wrong Ronald D. Moore and have him write more episodes for real BSG stars to act out. Having actually lost a few weekends to binging "Battlestar Galactica" on Netflix during college, this skit hits home.
Knot Store — While the main thread of the previously discussed episode is fantastic, the one and only Jeff Goldblum appears in an unrelated skit in the same 30 minutes. As the pink-suited proprietor of an artisanal knot store, he seductively tries to sell a hapless couple a tangled set of earbuds in a bell jar for a housewarming party. The following season Goldblum returns in a different, yet just as laughably obscure, store to sell doilies. I still don’t know if Goldblum is self-aware of his odd comedic timing, but I do know I’ll always love him for it.
"Brunch Village" — "Portlandia" is at its best when speaking directly to its millennial audience and there's nothing more millennial than our ridiculous love of brunch. Rather than show a collection of vignettes, this episode features the entire beloved cast all vying for marionberry pancakes at the hottest new restaurant. The line becomes so long that a shantytown springs up with Tim Robbins as its ruler. The episode was such a hit that a few months later "The Brunch Special" aired with fake behind-the-scenes segments and a "Blackout," similarly stellar finale, put a bow on season three.
The Celery Incident — Armisen and Brownstein take a back seat to Steve Buscemi, in this 11-minute clip that's a tribute to David Mamet and John Grisham. Buscemi plays a celery salesman trying to find leads and partnerships to stay afloat while his colleagues selling heirloom tomatoes and kale are the top dogs. It’s intense and funny in a charming way that only "Portlandia" could pull off.
Thankfully IFC still has a hit on its hands. Co-starring Armisen and Bill Hader, the torch has been passed to “Documentary Now.” Each episode is a meticulously crafted mockumentary that perfectly parodies real documentaries like “Grey Gardens” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
Pour one out for “Portlandia” on Thursday. You’ll be missed.