SNL lovers know Fred Armisen as one of the most versatile comedians from the live sketch comedy that left after 11 years on the show. And anyone familiar with riot grrrl or Bikini kill has probably listened to a Sleater-Kinney song featuring vocals and guitar by Carrie Brownstein. The two met at an SNL after-show party and sparks flew, that is, comedy sparks. "Portlandia" is one of the funniest sketch comedies to grace television, with some of the most hilarious commentary on hipster culture, indie outliers, and 90's nostalgia. The brilliance is in the timing, the weird awkward cadences that both Armisen and Brownstein master, and the subtle nuance to their hipster endorsing characters.
Whether they are mocking raging feminists, or getting hyped for discounted fleece in a shopping center, the duo manage to celebrate and parody millennial behaviorisms and intellectual conversations that serve as fertile koans for the show. You'd think a comedy parodying stores with "knot art" would get old after a while, but Brownstein and Armisen understand that a generation's need to be innovative and iconoclastic can often serve up the most derivative fodder. For every niche smoothie bar, dog spa, or rundown dispensary, there's a source of tradition pulling everyone into a central gravity.
Oh, and did I mention that "Portlandia" is a show that explores queer narratives and communities. "Portlandia" gestures to pop culture through the microcosm of Portland, tackling some of the biggest discussions of the last decade (from transgendered rights, to gay activism, and visibility for LGBTQ communities).
Lance and Nina aren't just setting up Facebook accounts; they're exploring the limits and boundaries of how they define monogamy in age of virtual-performed, heteronormative bliss. And Nance and Peter aren't just cutting pasta out of their diets; they're attempting to conform to millennial trends that push them to insanity when their cozy, personal bubbles are disturbed in the slightest.
Although the concepts are explored in low-risk contexts, "Portlandia" is a brave comedy that questions the absurdity of left-wing liberals and radical thinkers. It's a show that often parodies the extremes people will undergo to protect or maintain their personal beliefs, identities, and ideas about the world at large — it's also a show that mocks just how absurd it is that a generation focused on seeming effortlessly cool and unbothered is the most concerned about presentability and aesthetics.
There are ear gauges, dreads, bike enthusiasts, vegans, feminists, rich hobos, music festivals, and clueless political leaders galore — "Portlandia" functions like the campus of any given liberal arts college. It's familiar in its depiction of smug, privileged people suffering the transgressions of their smug, privileged institutions — but "Portlandia" is made with love. Every sketch, no matter how absurd or exaggerated, celebrates the city of Portland's — and international cities in general — support and engagement in counterculture and alternative lifestyles. "Portlandia" is more of a brochure for the wacky and whimsical adventures of your everyday liberal.
Stream all seven seasons on Netflix!
Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.
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