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.