Review: IFC’s ‘Portlandia’

Tuesday, December 28 by

I like Fred Armisen on “Saturday Night Live” and I see where he’s going with this new sketch comedy show “Portlandia.” It doesn’t quite work though and I can’t say you should spend any time watching it.

This IFC show is a series of sketches featuring Armisen and Carrie Brownstein centering on different aspects of Portland, OR. It’s all really obvious and it feels like improv topics that were contrived to be funny, but not actually inspired.

Case in point: a sketch about a hide and seek team. See, treating a childish game like a professional playoff is funny, because it’s so out of context, right? Watching it performed is not funny just because the actors take it seriously.

In a music video, Armisen proclaims that the ‘90s are still going on in Portland. If celebrating grunge culture is enough to make you laugh, then you’ll love the references to the Jim Rose Circus, hot chicks wearing glasses and sleeping until 11AM. That’s actually the best sketch in the bunch.

Armisen and Browstein ask a waitress at a restaurant ultra specific questions about the chicken they serve. You see, because in Portland they care about organic free range meat. So the waitress presents in-depth papers about the chicken they might order. I thought it was funny that Armisen said “And and and and and and and and and and and and” so many times before getting to the question, but we get it. At a certain point it’s just meat.

A sketch about Mind-Fi jokes that the next level of our technological obsession is mental. That’s not even regional. We have technology everywhere.

They do a lot of characters with wigs, like women’s bookstore owners with long hippie hair. They do that sketch twice in the first two episodes so I guess they hope those are recurring characters. If refusing to reach all the way to the shelf to get a book is funny, then there are endless possibilities.

Another sketch where Brownstein and Armisen switch genders is just uncomfortable. Not because I have any problem with gender roles. “Kids in the Hall” and “Monty Python” were always doing that. “Portlandia” just makes it so sexual and vulgar without making it funny. The joke is a safe word which the woman (Armisen) ultimately uses to stop even social interaction. That’s only funny if the situation is ridiculous, not just sexual.

Brownstein and Armisen commit to the absurdity of their sketches but the premises are just too obvious. Often they end up just yelling, like in “Put a Bird on Things” or the lost dog sketch. Since it’s filmed, the editing can create different timing than a “SNL” sketch, but it doesn’t make humor out of mediocre material.

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COMMENTS

  1. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Anonymous

    Not surprised by this review, I find Armisen unlikeable and smug and his SNL characters grating and unfunny.


  2. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Dan

    I’ve seen this episode. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either. It’s just sort of boring and lifeless. It feels very self-indulgent. IFC just seems to be trying it’s damnedest to be ‘off kilter’, but this isn’t. But you should be very careful when corporate drones decide what’s ‘off kilter’. Bottom line – this is definitely worth skipping. Very uninspired.


  3. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Mark

    I completely disagree with the review and the comments. This episode was hilarious, I suppose you just need to be from Portland / San Francisco / Seattle to really appreciate some of the situations. For me this was dead on and I was laughing so hard that I cried.


  4. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Dsafads1

    SO SEET


  5. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Cbjb

    All the moments you found redeeming about the premier, I thought were the least funny. Likewise, you seem to have missed the overall theme of the show: jabs at the ridiculousness that is Portland smugness. Not quite sure how you didn’t get a laugh out of the bookstore ladies, but Armisen and Brownstein have good timing. Maybe you need a bit of a sketch-show refresher (KITH, etc.) to get back in the swing.


  6. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Jdongweck

    I loved it. Laughed out loud. Not sure what the reviewer watched but it wasn’t this show.


  7. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Sayrock

    I have to agree with this review. I was really curious to see the first episode, and even though I’m not a big Armisen fan, I was looking forward to seeing Portland spoofed. It was easy to see what message they were trying to get across, but they just tried too hard. A little more subtlety might have helped. The whole thing came across like a high school stunt show.


  8. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Jdawg

    I was really excited to watch this show, but sadly disappointed in it’s lack of hilarity. There are SO many hilarious things to make fun of in Portland! I love this town, but it is ripe for poking fun at. The concepts behind the sketches were funny, but the content within them just wasn’t – it was more like slap-stick. Piling on the subtle references within the sketch would make the show a lot funnier. I agree this won’t be funny to non-Portland-livers, but that’s what this show is all about, right?! Do something about the knitting phenomena


  9. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    mother

    I’m a Portland native and when I first read about this show I thought wow, so much potential! Even with my expectations set low, I found it completely humorless and lacking wit.


  10. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Bro-snake

    you are clearly not from the pacific northwest. Portlandia is hilarious to all who are all too familiar with “hot girls with glasses” because portland is full of them. i suppose this show would not make sense to anyone who isnt already familiar with portland.

    that being said, i agree that the writing is a little weak. armisen and brownstein seem committed to their roles, but the skits need a little more, and i think it comes from the writing


  11. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Redcat Steve

    So us weirdos in Portland really don’t care about the negative stuff. Send us the TV show, and we’ll watch it all ourselves. We like it her, and the TV show, and yes…it’s all true.

    Hurray – they’ve got a OC 2-hour special on, with Tori Spelling. Run – go see! And while you’re gone, us PDXers will watch another episode, starting at 4.20


  12. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    John M

    It’s sort of boring.


  13. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    925campclub

    weak


  14. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Cybestuntman

    The ones that dont find this funny….are the ones that the show is focuses on. Yes folks, they are not laughing with us, they are laughing at us.

    One day, Portland should become notable without having to rely on the freaks, wierdos and bums to make it so.


  15. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Cybestuntman

    The ones that dont find this funny….are the ones that the show is focuses on. Yes folks, they are not laughing with us, they are laughing at us.

    One day, Portland should become notable without having to rely on the freaks, wierdos and bums to make it so.


  16. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Jim

    The reviewer seems out of his depth on this. These sketches were wicked funny.


  17. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Portlandia sucks major balls

    Terrible, so bad…how could anyone think this crap is funny?


  18. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Dana

    Eh, I’ve lived in Northwest culture all my life. Still doesn’t make this show funny. Just depends on your sense of humor, I suppose. Yes, a lot of the sketches are poignant, but that’s not the only criteria for hilarity. I, personally, was disappointed. I say more Steve Buscemi!


  19. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Dana

    And how do you, my friend, propose it achieves this goal? By becoming a homogeneous hub of productivity like other, more lifeless cities?

    I can laugh at hippies, granolas, homesteaders, and militant feminists all day long, but I still don’t find this show funny. We don’t all share the same sense of humor, dontchaknow.


  20. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    AUSTIN

    This show is really good. I’m from Austin and it reminds me of it so much of it. Best show in TV!


  21. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Lesamay

    This is NOT a funny show. It’s weak and undeserving.


  22. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    juandelacruz

    I live in Portland and have lived in Oregon for 15years, Found the show to be very dull, obvious, and cheesy. The ratings will most likely be the only funny thing about it


  23. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Boston

    This show is ridiculously funny. The people who don’t like this show are the people that take television and comedy way too seriously. Its poking fun at the tech-crazed, bike culture, grunge loving, apple product worshipers, hippie tree hugging people that could be found in any major city. I’m from Boston and see people like this in and around the city all the time. And what makes it unique is that its mocking a culture that exists presently. Maybe Armisen was too soon for some people. But i love it.


  24. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Pamhogeweide

    with a houseful of teenagers my husband and i sat down to watch the second episode. Laughed outloud several times! Colin the Chicken from episode one is practically now a celebrity in Portland (where we live)….the real jest of the show is hipster culture which Portland seems to be some kind of vortex for. After the show, we enjoyed a rousing conversation with the houseful of teens debating What is a hipster and Do we really care? Show is seen as funny in my hipster/non-hipster sphere of Portland peeps, but most of all we’re just so damned pleased with ourselves for having a show make fun of our local hipster culture….and in keeping with the Portland hipster scene, episodes are being aired at McMenamin’s Bagdad theater, an epicenter of all-things-hipsterfied!


  25. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Portlanddude503

    This show fucking sucks… I was hoping it would be good being from portland… But no it sucks dick!!!


  26. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Jennysparkle2000

    The gender bending characters are sooo aggravating and uncomfortable. The only episode I actually laughed at was the 2nd one. I was hoping it was getting better, but the 3rd episode was SO lame!


  27. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Mark

    If this show is “wicked funny” then it is obvious that the target audience is…not Oregonians. I really wanted to like this show. There are tons of things that are hilarious about Portland, especially the hipster culture. This misses pretty much all of the good stuff.


  28. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Virginia Hipster

    This show is not as much about Portland as much as it’s about white urban hipsterdom.


  29. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Virginia Hipster

    This show is not as much about Portland as much as it’s about white urban hipsterdom.


  30. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    Anonymous

    I agree…I’ve lived in Berkeley for years, the most mocked city in the USA, so I understand what this kind of humor should be like. I’ve tried to watch it 4 times now, and each time I gave up…it’s JUST NOT FUNNY in any way shape or form.

    Incidentally, I feel the same way about SNL these days….it’s so unfunny, it’s cringe inducing.


  31. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    hipsters.eat.shit

    I have spent all my life in portnd and i can ssure you all THIS SHOW IS SHIT! it has nothing to do with portland, infact all of the stereo types on this show are based on a subculture of people who are not native to protalnd HIIPSTERS ARE A BUNCH OF TRUST FUND EASTCOAST RICH KIDS WHO HAVE RUINED PORTLAND WITH THEIR SHIT ATTITUDE A COKE ADDICTIONS>>> GO AWAY!


  32. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    hipsters.eat.shit

    It feels very self-indulgent.

    thats all hipsters will ever acheive. a pathetic sense of self-indulgence.


  33. December 28, 2010 1:49 pm

    hipsters.eat.shit

    ur a little bitch.