The Indecisive Viewer: Comments on Portlandia

By Jonah Freedman
By Jonah Freedman

Some say that Carrie Brownstein has the ‘midas touch.’ And this may be reflected in IFC’s new show Portlandia, produced by Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels, which features Fred Armisen, from SNL, and Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein. Yet, though it is often ‘golden,’ there seems to be an awful lot of impurities in this show.

The series centres on sketches performed by costumed Armisen and Brownstein, who play various characters from Portland. Their humorous generalizations are usually aimed at those deemed ‘hipsters,’ often displaying the absurdities of ‘indie’ culture. This is generally well executed and is often done with great taste. In particular the “did you read?” sketch, mocking the competitive nature of some readers, tastefully conveys its purpose in a humorous manner. Conversely, the sketch in which Armisen and Brownstein switch gender roles just comes off as crude and vulgar. There is little humour to be found amidst the overly sexual scenes, making the sketches both uncomfortable and painful to sit through. That being said, I’ll give credit to Armisen who is always fully immersed in his role and willing to invest completely in every character. Brownstein seems to play the subtler, or perhaps just more subdued, roles, often bringing less energy than Armisen to the scene. Though sometimes a detriment, this often works in her favour, giving her characters some subtlety that Armisen’s lack. Her role as a part owner of a feminist bookstore, Women and Women First, was particularly entertaining, which features her pushing down Aubrey Plaza’s outstretched pointer-finger and exclaiming, “put that away. Every time you point I see a penis.”

As well, the show seems to have gained support from other actors and musicians, with cameos from Steve Buscemi, Colin Meloy, Sarah McLachlan and many others. Though it isn’t perfect and not always funny, as sketches often seem to just end with Armisen and Brownstein yelling and destroying everything in sight, it does have its golden moments.

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