Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are an impressive comedic team; it’s no wonder that IFC advertises Portlandia as its primary intellectual property. Never slow or devoid of humor, Portlandia is essentially a sketch comedy with one or two continuing storylines per episode. It all centers around the city of Portland, a community which has in recent times become the idiosyncratic home to hipsters of all kinds. And like most other scenes, there are enough generalizations about hipsters to wrap an entire show’s premise around, while also giving Armisen and Brownstein a venue for their sillier ideas.
“Feminist Bookstore’s 10th Anniversary” was this week’s episode, the eighth in what’s already their second season, and as far as Portlandia offerings go it hit every level of humor pretty much on its mark. The focus was on Women and Women First, the fictional bookstore created earlier in the series, and conflicts during its Anniversary party. This set of sketches of course nailed the hipster feminist jokes, helped by the fact that Armisen always looks hilarious in a wig. The two play such awkward idealists that every scene so far in this bookstore has been clever and refreshing in this age of comedy.
The other handful of sketches were almost the perfect array of ideas for anyone curious as to Portlandia’s overall structure. There was the purposeful hastily-cut “get the gear” sketch that felt like a toned-down Tim and Eric scene, funny all the way through to its final twist. Even the cold open was inventive yet still stayed on-topic, playing upon the concept of recording multiple takes in a recycling commercial done by non-professional actors. The one dud was a quick dance-room sketch, a snarky near-fourth-wall-breaker pointing the finger at corporations who freak out over copyright law. But it was redeemed slightly by the nonsensical durian fruit bit, not guaranteed to get a laugh from everyone but itself a testament of this duo’s ability to go from realistic silliness to low-budget sci-fi just for a chuckle.
There’s something in Portlandia for everyone, and that’s what makes it such a unique show. Armisen and Brownstein have such an eye for comedic timing, fast-forwarding and slowing things down without warning to produce a lot of content in a small amount of time. And even so, there’s a lot of heart behind Portlandia. People always give off the sense of being half-aware that they’re in a sketch show, which keeps everything bright and hard not to smile along with. If you have access to IFC and enjoy sketch comedy at any level, Portlandia is just the quirky underground-but-not-really-underground show for you.