'Portlandia,' premiering Friday on IFC

Robert Lloyd
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — In "Portlandia," a funny and charming new six-episode, single-camera sketch comedy from IFC, Fred Armisen, of "Saturday Night Live," and Carrie Brownstein, formerly of the band Sleater-Kinney and now of Wild Flag, come together to gently lampoon life in what has repeatedly been proclaimed one of America's, and even the world's, most livable cities, Portland, Ore.

The series is a better-heeled, better-paced and, within the bounds of its own Portland-ish modesty, a more ambitious extension of the occasional videos that Armisen and Portland resident Brownstein have posted online over the past few years under the name ThunderAnt. If there's an overall theme here, it's that heaven contains its own portion of hell — that right living takes work, relaxation causes stress, and that a thin line separates responsibility and rage. ("Cars, man! Why?" fumes Armisen's "bicycle rights" guy as he navigates the city streets.) Their Portland is a place where your chicken dinner may come with a pedigree ("His name was Colin; here are his papers") and where your vegan pastry tastes like sand because it is made with sand.

Yet the tone remains affectionate. Armisen, who is 44, and Brownstein, who is 36, are experienced enough to regard their targets with a little dispassion, yet not so remote as to grow cynical about them.

It all begins with Fred (as "Jason from L.A.") coming to tell Brownstein, as if he's just back from Narnia, that he's seen a place where "the dream of the '90s is alive."

"Remember when people were content to be unambitious, sleep to 11, hang out with their friends?" he reminds her. When they just wanted to form bands, he asks, or go to clown school?

"I gave up clowning years ago," Brownstein says.

"Well, in Portland, you don't have to." It is, he says, "a city where young people go to retire."

There is a long a tradition of musical comedians and comedic musicians, but over the past 15 years or so, common cause has been made increasingly between them. Yo La Tengo regularly shares the stage with stand-up comics (Jim Gaffigan and Kristen Schaal, recently). Aimee Mann, who'll appear in an upcoming episode of "Portlandia," has used professional comedians to deliver her onstage patter. Patton Oswalt, Eugene Mirman and Flight of the Conchords release records on Sub Pop, home of the Shins and Nirvana. David Cross has appeared in videos for the Strokes and Superchunk (whose drummer, Jon Wurster, also does comedy). And Armisen himself drummed for the Chicago-based punk band Trenchmouth (and was married for several years to Sally Timms from the Mekons, which is its own kind of heavy, underground cred).

The leads have a lovely, light way with one another — this is not the comedic equivalent of Sleater-Kinney's riot grrrl rock — and as an actress, Brownstein is ... a really good actress. They easily inhabit a variety of characters: a couple experimenting sexually (each player takes the opposite gender), tournament hide-and-seek players, craft mavens who insist that the way to improve any object is to "put a bird on it." In the show's best bit, a recurring holdover from ThunderAnt, they play the co-proprietresses of a feminist bookstore. Armisen's question, "That's a top-selling author — do we want that in here?" and his assurance to a customer (Aubrey Plaza from "Parks & Recreation") that "We could order that for you, it'll take a year to get here," sum up their passive-aggressive approach to business.

As Fred and Carrie, they meet the mayor, played by Kyle MacLachlan — actual Portland Mayor Sam Adams plays his assistant — who displays an award for "best official website for cities with populations under 700,000 in the Pacific Northwest area," a certificate he had printed himself, and sets them to write the town a theme song. ("Portland Community College/They sent me a reminder," Fred suggests. "Community garden workshop/Teach me to rake and hoe-oh-oh," Carrie sings.)

"Just one thing," MacLachlan warns. "Don't make it sound like it's coming from Seattle. Go, Portland!"


Where: IFC

When: 10:30 p.m. ET/PT Friday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.