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IFC’s Portlandia returned this past Friday night with two new episodes to kick off their third season. For those unfamiliar, Portlandia is a half hour sketch comedy show starring and mostly written by Fred Armisen (of Saturday Night Live fame) and Carrie Brownstein (a musician turned writer turned actress). The show’s focus is on Portland, Oregon and many of the quirky characters one might or expects to meet in the city. Each episode features one long sketch that is given three sketch slots throughout the episode (the opening, one in the middle, and the closing). In between are other various sketches from the wealth of characters both Brownstein and Armisen have created.
'Take Back MTV'
“Take Back MTV” was chock full of good stuff. The main sketch was focused on Armisen’s Spike character, an alternative modern day hippy with ear gauges, realizing that MTV has changed drastically since he last owned a TV, in the late 80s. He enlists Brownstein’s help to take the network back to what it used to be. The funniest section was the middle in which Spike and Brownstein assemble early MTV greats Kurt Loder, Matt Pinfield, and Tabitha Soren in the style of the Ocean’s Eleven remakes (the Clooney versions, not the Sinatra version). Loder offering up his special skill as being sardonic was definitely funny. Also when Spike hosts a fund raising party to take the network back he is introduced to many foundations and wealthy philanthropists, including the Scandinavian philanthropist Fjohürs Lykkewe (pronounced “viewers like you”). You’ve got to love PBS humor. Unfortunately the last segment was pretty disappointing and not very funny as Spike and Brownstein meet with a sassy tween who is in charge of programming at MTV.
The cold open sketch was probably the most laugh out loud funny part of the episode. Armisen and Brownstein played two young professionals who were forced to move back home due to Portland’s lack of jobs. They decide to create a protest song about this fact but instead end up making “One Party at a Time” a party, dance song that talks about how awesome partying is.
Two other sketches that induced chuckles included the yoga sketch in which Brownstein notices this cool looking guy at yoga checking her out. She allows her mind to imagine all sorts of sexy and romantic scenarios involving him throughout the session only to realize he has a very nasally voice and complains about nothing at the end of the session. The other noteworthy sketch was a street renaming meeting in which Brownstein and Armisen wanted to rename a street after a popular toddler’s TV character. “Take Back MTV” ended up being a very solid return for the often hit or miss sketch comedy show.
The second episode of the premiere extravaganza was a much more star-studded affair, although not as funny as “Take Back MTV.” The main sketch featured Armisen and Brownstein (as themselves) having a pow-wow with the semi-recurring Mayor character (Kyle McLaughlin). The running joke of the Mayor’s inferiority complex with Seattle is the focus because he is inflamed by the cover of Portland Monthly that features Seattle as the jewel of the Pacific Northwest. He Armisen and Brownstein to Seattle as bike missionaries to spread the word about Portland. Once they arrive the have little luck until they find a house of three roommates, very reminiscent of something you might find in Portland. Chloë Sevigny as Alexandra is one of the roommates and is instantly intrigued by Armisen showing off the “chore wheel” that he says is a staple in Portland. Despite the rocker roommates protestations that Kurt Cobain is from Seattle and therefore Portland is inferior, Alexandra really is taken by Armisen’s and Brownstein’s sales pitch.
The end segment is an unattended assembly for the new arrivals in Portland put on by the Mayor. The only new arrivals are two dachshunds and the Mayor makes sure to change the “dog population” number on the City of Portland sign to accommodate their arrival. Finally Alexandra shows up and everyone rejoices (despite the fact she has not planned this move out at all) and the Mayor shakes his tambourine. If the sketch sounds unfunny that’s because it largely was.
Luckily the other sketches were more entertaining. One sketch about pedicabs (otherwise known as bicycle rickshaws) was pretty funny as Armisen hounded anyone and everyone to be a passenger. There was a bit of a musical flair in that one as well. Another sketch involved two couples trying to have a discussion about TVs and movies they had watched but they couldn’t because there wasn’t a show that all four had seen, a spoiler alert sketch if you will. The mention of spoiling the 90s teen drama Boy Meets World was pretty good. It ended incredibly randomly (as Portlandia is known to do) as it all happened to be an old African-American man’s recurring dream.
In another sketch, Jeff Goldblum somewhat reprised his previous character as a proprietor of very eccentric shop (his first shop was a store that sold knots, this time he was selling doilies). Goldblum’s weird energy is always great and definitely was the funniest thing in the entire episode, especially the weird face itching and glasses moving competition between Armisen’s character and Goldblum. The shop owners of the Women and Women First bookstore also returned (both are women, Armisen in drag) and have gotten a negative review of their store. They go seek out the reviewer who happens to be Martina Navratilova. The funniest part from this sketch came from Armisen saying to Martina and Brownstein, “That’s what feminism is about. Good reviews.”
Nothing was gut-bustingly funny but there were definitely some pretty good moments from “Missionaries.” This episode was one of those episodes of Portlandia that ends up being more weird than hilarious and none of the sketches quite hit.