Portlandia: Satire and Sketch At Their Finest

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Art by Kaley

As we bid 30 Rock a bittersweet farewell, we may find ourselves searching for something to fill that spot in our hearts and minds reserved for charming, satirical television comedy. Because nothing goes better with night cheese than television. Good, funny, totally sincere-in-its-comedy television.

Part of what made the premise of 30 Rock so successful was its willingness to gleefully and skillfully attack NBC just for being NBC. And what’s the only other thing you can satirize without offense? Portland. And hipsters.

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And that’s what Portlandia does. Platonic powerhouse couple Fred Armisen (of SNL) and Carrie Brownstein (of Portland’s own acoustic supergroup Wild Flag and the three-womyn Olympia punk-y band Sleater-Kinney) take sketch to a whole new level. Portlandia is now on its third season and its shtick has not worn thin.

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Armisen and Brownstein play a multitude of characters (including two fine Portland citizens, Fred and Carrie) and host a revolving door of guest stars. Chloe Sevigny, Bill Hader, Roseanne Barr, Miranda July, Joanna Newsom, Kristen Wiig, some of the Decemberists, Aubrey Plaza, and Kyle MacLachlan all drift in and out of Portlandia as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Each guest performance is delightful in its own way, but never surprising. Of course there’s an entire sketch devoted to stuffing Joanna Newsom’s harp into a tiny hatchback. Of course Kristen Wiig plays a deranged fangirl and Miranda July plays a snooty retail worker who lived in New York for like three months.

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The writing of Portlandia is downright acerbic but never bitter. Everything from Portland’s dull grey “winters” to its obsession with brunch is up for grabs because (as Brownstein admits) things are pretty great in Portland. And a lot of people can afford to devote a lot of energy to the maintenance of a perfectly local, organic, vegan diet. And brunch is pretty easy to mock as well. Yet no shot is cheap. Portlandia feels more dreamy than bitter, more wistful than cruel. This is satire and sketch at their finest. Over the top feminist bookstore ladies are even funnier when paired next to Aubrey Plaza’s signature deadpan and sometimes tote bags do need a bird on them.

Meaghan Murphy, Staff Writer 

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About Meaghan Murphy

lives, studies, makes radio in Chicago. writes about it too.

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