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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Problem with Portlandia

Posted by on Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 1:22 PM


Portlandia! It's the hit IFC comedy that I'm happy exists if only for inspiring The New Yorker to write this wonderful profile of Carrie Brownstein. But as the New York Times points out, Portlandia is a comedy that has a problem with funniness.

The problem isn't a complete lack of funniness—there are bits of Portlandia that are so funny they almost make me pee via recall, including but not limited to Carrie's line about "eco-chairs and eco-ways to sit," Carrie riding a bike and crowing "I made a homemade quesadilla!", and Carrie-as-the-feminist-bookstore-owner hitting on Heather Graham by bragging about her indigenous pantsuit.

But between these great bits are long stretches of the rest of Portlandia, which leave me wanting. So I put it to you.


Comments (72) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Seattle will never get it.

But Vancouver might.
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 13, 2012 at 1:27 PM · Report this
Bub 2
Seattle' s just jealous.
Posted by Bub on January 13, 2012 at 1:27 PM · Report this
Eric F 3
It's always funny on Youtube. I always kind of forget you can watch it in 22-minutes chunks on TV, too. Maybe it shouldn't have been a proper TV show, just shorts.
Posted by Eric F on January 13, 2012 at 1:29 PM · Report this
sjbrot 4
Season 1 was hit and miss. Having only watched the premier for Season 2, I'm optimistic.
Posted by sjbrot on January 13, 2012 at 1:35 PM · Report this
I would like to applaud your third option, which is the point of your entire post. Beautiful work. Not that that's how it hits me. I love every moment, precisely because it's sort of unable to be always going for the laugh. The key I spotted is the line Carrie got off in the NYT magazine profile: the show is set in "a magical place where everyone goes to tyrannical lengths to let you know how good they are." It's incredibly apt, but you can see how it can't always be funny, nor should be. Carrie and Fred seem to get that. I love this show - this and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia are the best queasy comedies.
Posted by gloomy gus on January 13, 2012 at 1:37 PM · Report this
very bad homo 6
The Battlestar Galactica sketch was painful and it went on way toooooooo long, but everything else makes me very happy. Even when it's only sorta make-you-smile funny instead of LOL funny.
Posted by very bad homo on January 13, 2012 at 1:38 PM · Report this
ingopixel 7
the quesedilla bit nearly killed me. i fucking lost it. funniest thing ever.
Posted by ingopixel on January 13, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
danindowntown 8
Posted by danindowntown on January 13, 2012 at 1:47 PM · Report this
The new york times takes five paragraphs to say "meh."

Is that a season two sketch?

Posted by opticsdoug on January 13, 2012 at 1:48 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 10
I'm with gloomy gus.

A big problem I have with contemporary comedies is that they try way too hard to be funny, running gag, after gag, after gag, to the point where I start to get bored. Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell movies are the worst offenders in that regard. I much prefer movies and TV shows that set up a funny premise and letting everything flow from there, even if it's not always (or ever) laugh-out-loud funny.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 13, 2012 at 1:48 PM · Report this
meanie 11
Its satire about the different people that live in a super self absorbed town. Portland. Its kinda funny because we have seen and met these self absorbed people from time to time elsewhere. Then when you realize that the premise is thats all portland is about, its kinda sad.

This is the 15th minute for PDX for a while.

Unless they can get a serial killer real soon, they are done for awhile after this.
Posted by meanie on January 13, 2012 at 1:49 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 12

At least it wasn't their normal 20 pages.
Posted by keshmeshi on January 13, 2012 at 1:49 PM · Report this
It's hit-or-miss exactly the way that Mr. Show was. When you have really smart people who are doing things that they genuinely find to be funny and aren't simply trying to get cheap laughs, things tend to be mediocre for the most part with occasional comedic gold that is hard to find anywhere else.
Posted by doceb on January 13, 2012 at 1:53 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 14
So, is it true that they have more viewers than Mad Men does?
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 13, 2012 at 2:00 PM · Report this
biffp 15
Hitting a couple 500 feet is better than a stream of semi-amusing jokes. Aimee Mann as the cleaning lady was a total classic. Is there a better rip on passive-agressive in the PNW?
Posted by biffp on January 13, 2012 at 2:01 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 16
The surrealist humor is funny, the twist in the professional hide & seek game and the localvore farm cult. Even the blah stuff is tolerable, like the Freegan and local music jabs. The catchphrase based humor (CACAO) is terrible, but I guess some people like that sort of thing.
Posted by undead ayn rand on January 13, 2012 at 2:01 PM · Report this
I think we're way too close to Portland physically, and the attitudes that infuse "Portlandia" mentally, to fully appreciate how it may hit people elsewhere. Sure, it's sort of "meh" to us, because we experience these kinds of people on a more-or-less regular basis, but what about people in Michigan or Texas or Georgia? Every place has its stereotypes; these are just ones people in other parts of the country haven't really been exposed to much, so I can easily imagine how the show could resonate much more with them than it does with us.

Besides, wouldn't the typical PNW Hipster 'tude preclude admitting to liking it, simply because of the way it portrays PNW Hipsters?

(Disclaimer: "Portlandia" is produced under an AFTRA contract, the union for which I work. Therefore, Carrie Brownstein pays a teeny-tiny portion of my salary. Therefore, I will never say anything bad about anything with which she is involved.)

And FWIW, I thought the BSG sketch was hilarious, because I can easily imagine people I know giving up their entire lives just to keep watching the show, AND I can imagine a few of them being dense enough to just assume that Ronald D. Moore actually lives in Portland.

(Also: James Edward Olmos' complete boredom played against James Callas' puppy-like enthusiasm for reviving the show in the final scene was priceless!)
Posted by COMTE on January 13, 2012 at 2:02 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 18
Well, obviously comedic sensibilities are highly subjective. I watched the entire first season of Portlandia in one sitting, and loved it.

I really hate comedies that try to wring a punchline out of every sentence and gesture. Trading quality for quantity of jokes rarely results in anything I want to watch.

deeply funny comedic premise playing out naturally > clever riffs on a deeply funny comedic premise >>> incessant laugh lines every 15 seconds whether they make sense or not
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on January 13, 2012 at 2:02 PM · Report this
Fnarf 19
It's just OK. It's funny in places. I'm not that interested in the dreamy zone, personally; I wish they were meaner and colder. They need to find an American Ricky Gervais or Rob Brydon. I want them to make the bottom of my stomach drop out more. They also need to address the overwhelming whiteness, even if it's just to acknowledge that there is no need to think about whiteness in Portland, ever.
Posted by Fnarf on January 13, 2012 at 2:04 PM · Report this
treacle 20
Portlandia, funny as it is, isn't as surreal as Monty Python or Mighty Boosh, nor as awkward as the original Office. It floats in this odd space of not quite being able to go to either extreme, yet not quite pulling off the middle ground either. It has it's moments, but it's just not consistent enough. Limited source material?
Posted by treacle on January 13, 2012 at 2:05 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 21
Portlandia is usually kinda to REALLY funny, but like how Simpsons and Family Guy to me, the straight up weirder the shows get, the funnier I find them. The river scene, the entire cult organic farming and dining sequence from the first season, "WE CAN PICKLE THAT" -- those are the best bits. When I'm equal parts laughing and after it cuts to commercial saying out loud, "What the fuck did I just watch?" it's mission accomplished.

To put into context: remember that bizarre Simpsons episode where they went camping, and Homer and Bart got into a military war with the local beaver population over the contents of the hotel mini-bar, after the beavers got drunk? Yeah, like that.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on January 13, 2012 at 2:10 PM · Report this
chimsquared 22
it's armisen's fault. he just has that snl virus that takes a good joke and stretches it out for seven minutes when it stops being funny after two. three at most. that said, it's one of the funnier things on tv. which says more about what's on tv.
Posted by chimsquared on January 13, 2012 at 2:12 PM · Report this
Josh Bis 23
I'd vote for option 4: "It's funny enough, but maybe they'll figure out this dreamy not-that-funny-but-kinda-interesting style they seem headed towards?"
Posted by Josh Bis on January 13, 2012 at 2:24 PM · Report this
Not quite funny enough but It's portrayal of cyclists and feminist bookstore owners are pretty on target.
Posted by Senor Guy on January 13, 2012 at 2:27 PM · Report this
Dougsf 25
Each Episode is good for about one solid sketch. Armisen can be great, but often seems to be more interested in "exploring concepts" than making the funny (not a bad thing per se, since TMaWL is currently one of my favorite things). Understandable. Bands usually do this by their fourth album.

Brownstein to me is Zooey Deschanel with a frown. When I see her on screen, I just think "don't you be trying to entertain ME... you know what you've done!" I don't know what that is exactly, but I can't shake it.

One thing I truly appreciate about Portlandia is that here is a show sending up not just the eccentricities of the various factions on the Left, but often their core values—who double as the show's own demo. Conservatives don't watch Cobert to laugh at themselves, and Jeff Foxworthy certainly wouldn't say anything that'd upset middle-class rednecks. This, I submit, as empirical evidence "we" are more correct than "them."
Posted by Dougsf on January 13, 2012 at 2:28 PM · Report this
I am with #22 - a lot of it is Armisen's fault. He's just not that funny. Brownstein, on the other hand, is great. Overall, I agree with everyone else that it's very funny at times, but mostly not funny enough. And dreamy? No thanks. It's skit comedy, for chrissake.
Posted by avocado on January 13, 2012 at 2:30 PM · Report this
seandr 27
It's not often laugh-out-loud funny, but there are so many nuances to the writing and to Carrie's and Fred's performances, that I adore the show, and I often find myself referring back to various scenes.

My favorite character is Carrie in drag as Lance. Drag is both a tribute to and satire of the "opposite" sex, and it seems so rare that men get to be the focus of that. I just love some of the touches she brings to that character - e.g., his dog-like straightforwardness and simplicity, the way he pulls out that big knife to open the huge box containing the tiny sex toy, when he tells his girlfriend "Get your head back in the party zone."

Portlandia also functions quite well as satire of urban liberals.

And I love the music!

I think both Fred and Carrie are brilliant, and in such different ways.
Posted by seandr on January 13, 2012 at 2:32 PM · Report this
They make fun of earnest liberals. What's not to like.
Posted by Limousine Liberal on January 13, 2012 at 2:47 PM · Report this
bedipped 29
After reading the article I wondered if the twee preciousness of their "is he gonna kiss me?" off-screen relationship was real or showbiz put-on, like Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds.
Posted by bedipped on January 13, 2012 at 2:57 PM · Report this
@22 gets it exactly right. Portlandia has a lot of good jokes, but they stretch them out too long and too far. The feminist bookstore scenes were some of the funnier ones because they were willing to flesh out their characters' weirdness somewhat, rather than just pound the crap out of one little gag.
Posted by Morosoph on January 13, 2012 at 2:59 PM · Report this
SPG 31
Jesus H. Fucking Christ people! How funny does it have to be every second to satisfy you?
It's got a lot of good, clever jokes and good delivery. Can every single part be hilariously funny when they have to create a new setup for each one? Compare it to your average sitcom or even to SNL and you'll appreciate just how funny it really is.
Posted by SPG on January 13, 2012 at 3:00 PM · Report this
Womyn2me 32
Honestly, the first season chicken farm visit sketch was so PNW that my household complained of rib pain from laughing.

We all agreed that the sketches go on too long, but that is very PNW too... we tend to continue an argument/conversation/situation about 4 minutes past when it could have stopped logically. For example, the various "____ PNW person, we salute you" commercials I see. since we live here, we understand automatically what a blue tarp camper is and why it is pretty funny. Other people in other places need more background.
Posted by Womyn2me http://http:\\ on January 13, 2012 at 3:01 PM · Report this
biffp 33
@24, the cyclist is hilarious, and you see that guy at least once a week in Seattle or Portland.
Posted by biffp on January 13, 2012 at 3:04 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 34
@ 31, welcome to SLOG, where some of the regulars overthink these things, and most of the rest want to make sure they don't think something is too funny, lest they lose their credibility with everyone else.

I've only seen a dozen or so skits via youtube, so I have no idea what the hit to miss ratio really is. But most of the ones I saw were funny, and unlike 22, I think Armison really shines here. I never thought he was much on SNL, but I laughed at his stuff a lot more here. (No need to talk up Brownstein.)
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 13, 2012 at 3:06 PM · Report this
Hit and Miss. For some reason whenever I watch the show I think back fondly to Almost Live.

*Ballard Driving School Graduate*
Posted by I'll keep watching on January 13, 2012 at 3:16 PM · Report this
kj 36
I'm with #17. It's a little too familiar to me, so it doesn't seem over-the-top enough, if that makes sense. But my friends here in Wyoming think it's extremely funny.
Posted by kj on January 13, 2012 at 3:19 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 37
@ COMTE, you don't think there are people like the ones lampooned on Portlandia in Texas or Michigan or Georgia? They can be found there, as well as Idaho, North Carolina, Vermont, South Dakota, and any other place with a city with over 100,000 people or a university.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 13, 2012 at 3:19 PM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 38

Portlandia is the kind of thing that's only funny for other people.

Like, "hey, here's this clip from's so funny...that's the way people are here [there]...right?"

Meanwhile, the recipient, thinking he has to "get it" even after receiving the same clip 50 times on facebook, twitter and blogs, says "oh, I know some guys...uh, dudes...just like those guys who live on Flanders after they left Reed".

It's a comedy based on a bluff. A bluff that everyone else finds it funny.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on January 13, 2012 at 3:20 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 39
I was just watching it last night, and I thought it was hillarious. Maybe I've been here too long, or am getting old, but I think so much of it is just spot-on. I especially love the bookstore scenes, although the two women who work there remind me of the women I used to know in Iowa City much more than women here in the NW.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 13, 2012 at 3:44 PM · Report this
It's basically if 2 Broke Girls were a sketch show without all the racism.

I get it though. Hipsters scolding hipsters. How utterly American.
Posted by Hey! It's Be Nice to Portland Day on January 13, 2012 at 3:47 PM · Report this
Reminds me of "Almost Live" (or "Almost Funny"). Occasional hilarity wrapped inside long stretches of trying way too hard to fill an entire show.
Posted by bigyaz on January 13, 2012 at 4:00 PM · Report this
Just Jeff 42
I found the Season 2 premier to be a bit lackluster. The river thing - not funny. The whole schtick with Andy Samberg - not funny. Hoping for better things to come, as I do love the show.
Posted by Just Jeff on January 13, 2012 at 4:03 PM · Report this
chimsquared 43
@ 25. i had no opinion about you until the last sentence. i hate you.

or wait ... are you a portlandia sketch?
Posted by chimsquared on January 13, 2012 at 4:04 PM · Report this
Dougsf 44
@44 - I thought the quotes would make it obvious there's absolutely no way to make the point I'm trying to make without sounding like a complete jackass. Maybe not.
Posted by Dougsf on January 13, 2012 at 4:26 PM · Report this
Dougsf 45
Shit, wait, I'M @44! @43. No, at life!
Posted by Dougsf on January 13, 2012 at 4:27 PM · Report this
laterite 46
Inconsistent but mostly funny enough. It's the new Almost Live.
Posted by laterite on January 13, 2012 at 4:29 PM · Report this
Simone 47
I liked season 1 and will watch season 2. After watching S2E1 on tv I discovered that ifc has way too many commercials that go on for too long and happen after every sketch. It breaks up the shows momentum (I don't know if it has any). I haven't watched episode 2 yet.

I wish that the sketches were more interconnected sort of like S1E5 "Blunderbuss" and it's indie rock festival and where we follow Jenny Conlee as she tries to find a place to play.
Posted by Simone on January 13, 2012 at 4:43 PM · Report this
The river scene sucked, the Battlestar Galactica skit got better as it went on and finished strong, and I loved the part in the bartender skit where they couldn't take the sun in L.A. Overall the show is strong and makes for a good hour when put back to back with Todd Margaret.
Posted by Bhamjason on January 13, 2012 at 4:59 PM · Report this
Put a bird on it.
Posted by Senor Guy on January 13, 2012 at 5:41 PM · Report this
I just watch the good parts on youtube.
Posted by matt! on January 13, 2012 at 5:59 PM · Report this
Just Jeff 51
The newest episode just aired, and it sucks major wangus. This makes me very sad.
Posted by Just Jeff on January 13, 2012 at 7:24 PM · Report this
that whole hee-larious chicken sketch? Almost Live did it (better), except it was fish (starts around 2:00)…

and remember, Almost Live was way more low budget ...
Posted by portlandia zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz on January 13, 2012 at 8:23 PM · Report this
oops, the link did not post entirely:

and remember, Almost Live was what, 20 years ago?!
Posted by portlandia zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz on January 13, 2012 at 8:28 PM · Report this
Fnarf 54
I thought tonight's episode was really good. The Eddie Vedder tattoo putting her off her date and breaking into her song was hilarious.
Posted by Fnarf on January 13, 2012 at 8:58 PM · Report this
TheRain 55
Helicopter Parents from last episode was amazing.
Posted by TheRain on January 13, 2012 at 10:47 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 56
@46 - To quote my brother: The dream of Seattle is alive in Portland.
Posted by Soupytwist on January 14, 2012 at 12:00 AM · Report this
I want to like it, but its not funny enough.
Posted by Conrad McMasters on January 14, 2012 at 12:53 PM · Report this
crymsonclovur 58
Some of the skits are absolutely hilarious and right on, but others are slightly painful, which makes it an easy show to pay little attention to.
Posted by crymsonclovur on January 14, 2012 at 3:23 PM · Report this
casualt 59
This entire thread is fodder for a future show...
Posted by casualt on January 14, 2012 at 5:56 PM · Report this
I accidentally voted "It's funny!" but I don't think it's funny. Please adjust totals.
Posted by Portlander on January 15, 2012 at 1:09 PM · Report this

The MWF filter did replace the GWF filter of my older refrigerator. It seems to work well and I DID NOT need to buy a new adapter. Who knows, your refrigerator may be different, but the MWF filter does replace my GWF filter no problems.

Webmaster of…;">GE Smart Water Filter MWF Review.

No matter how many communes anybody invents, the family always creeps back. -- Margaret Mead
Posted by globexXx on January 16, 2012 at 7:26 AM · Report this
@59 FTW.

Oh, you sweet dumb dumbs ...
Posted by Amanda on January 16, 2012 at 9:56 AM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 63
I'm going to be saying "Put a bird on it" for the rest of my life. So the show wins, regardless of anything else it accomplished.
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on January 16, 2012 at 11:41 AM · Report this
Fred Casely 64
I got more than halfway through this thread before it really sunk in that I was reading comments about a show I've never seen in in a website for an alternative weekly for a city I don't live in.

Sorry, @35-63.
Posted by Fred Casely on January 16, 2012 at 12:44 PM · Report this
@64 -- You're forgiven.
Posted by Amanda on January 16, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Report this
Even ignoring issues of length: I find Mr Armisen's mugging annoying---his work is replete with humour-killing 'this is _funny_' visual and auditory cues---maybe C.B.'s lack of training helps, or maybe they're there but my light crush on her supervenes.

I want to see their take on self-diagnosed aspies.

Posted by Gerald Fnord on January 17, 2012 at 10:35 AM · Report this
I think Armisen's nuanced delivery of dialogue is the absolute funniest part of the show. They have some great concepts, and definitely misses here and there, but his delivery of whatever it is he's saying cracks me up almost every time. I think he has such a good understanding of what his face is doing or what stuttering/stumbling over words he's doing and he picks up on these great little speech cliches and mannerisms that you see people do all the time. I really think it's genius.
Posted by Mike19929 on November 10, 2012 at 12:04 AM · Report this
Wow! Not funny
Americans trying too hard to do British humour
Posted by Portlandia not funny on January 3, 2013 at 8:19 AM · Report this
I've lived in Portland all of my life. Have Carrie and Fred? Nooooo..... All these weirdos come from Idaho and small towns of oregon and other cities as a closeted gay or wanting to start a shitty band or want to juggle on the street to make money... So they come here and act rediculous and make this city look ridiculous. Yeah, I recycle and have a garden and agree in human and animal rights and shit, but I hate all of these people. All these small town assholes/fakes of a fake city can go fuck themselves and me and my true portland people will love the Portland that these chodes (Carrie and Fred and anyone else that likes this show) will never ever see. Call me if you want to chill and have some good food and beer. I guess that would be a boring show. Don't call me if you want to shop for skinny pants and top hats. I'm a chick btw these feminist bookshops that everyone are talking about can go fuck themselves too. Ugh go to the mountains. I'd say it to any judgmental angry gross guy group too to be fair.
Posted by Craeford83 on February 12, 2013 at 12:42 PM · Report this
Portlandia sucks and I love you #69.
Posted by gcubed on September 8, 2013 at 6:55 PM · Report this
Portlandia sucks and I love you #69 & #70.
Posted by Cruth on February 15, 2014 at 6:22 PM · Report this
I have tried to watch Portlandia per my gf's recommendation, but find it, well, not funny. It really goes overboard with the stereo-types and the two main characters simply over do it. It's over the top for me and I've visited Portland many times and don't see the Portland that is depicted in Portlandia.
Posted by Portland enthusiast on March 25, 2014 at 7:18 AM · Report this

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