In Slate’s Portlandia TV Club, Chris Wade will IM each week with a different fan of the show. This week, he discusses the show with Slate’s June Thomas.
Chris Wade: So, it’s becoming more apparent with every episode this season that Portlandia is actively interested in world-building and creating season-long sketches, jokes, and plots.
June Thomas: I’m interested to hear that Portlandia has been doing more long-running sketches this season. That would give me motivation to make a point of tuning in. I have my DVR set up to record the new episodes, but I don’t make much of an effort to watch right away, and I often skip around. But I’m always struck by how smart they are to keep things short. Even when sketches aren’t working for me, I like that they don’t overstretch things. Unlike SNL, say.
Wade: I’ll admit I was skeptical of Portlandia’s ability to sustain longer premises and more sitcom-ish plots, but they’ve got my attention now and I’m willing to put up with some questionable moves if it pays off later somehow. For example, Chloë Sevigny’s Alexandra character moved in with Fred and Carrie in the second episode, and has been seen occasionally ever since. And the penultimate episode of this season is reportedly named “Alexandra” so something’s going on there.
Thomas: I didn’t realize that Chloë Sevigny’s odd expressions were part of an ongoing story, but that didn’t matter one bit.
Wade: Which is kind of perfect. And this is a pretty classic episode of Portlandia; refreshing during a season that’s trying a lot of different, new things. We have a strong runner centering on Kyle MacLachlan’s mayoral earnestness getting the best of him, surrounded by three fairly strong one-off ideas, and a decent appearance by some favorite recurring characters, with Peter and Nance getting their bed and breakfast inspected.
Thomas: As much as I like the mayor’s appearances, that particular character seems a little played out. And as Sam Adams knows all too well, mayoral terms do end.
Wade: I kind of agree, but in a lot of ways he’s the physical embodiment of the spirit of Portlandia: earnest, naive, and a slave to trends. And Carrie’s appeal for him to return—“The way you’re touching those goats, that’s what Portland really needs”—was probably my line of the night.
Thomas: When Carrie and Fred visited the mayor on his shack off the grid it felt like the logical end point of that particular self-sacrificing character type—he’s so eco-conscious he’s sleeping on straw, drinking dirty water, and poisoning himself with his kerosene. He got his carbon footprint close to zero. Now it’s time for someone else to step into his shoes.
Wade: And as we learn in a cliffhanger, that someone is apparently Roseanne! I hope they commit to using her in a big way next episode, maybe as an iron fist foil to MacLachlan’s velvet glove? I think Portlandia under Roseannarchy could be quite funny.
Thomas: The way the end credits shifted to a retro sitcom style after her surprise appearance suggests that she will be a very different kind of mayor—and offer a chance to do a very different kind of sketch.
Wade: So, working as we do for a Web magazine, how did you feel about poor George Wendt’s newspaper being taken over by the overtly Buzzfeedian “LinxPDX”? Hits pretty close to home, right?
Thomas: I have enough distance from enterprises like LinxPDX to laugh heartily at that sketch. But Craig Rodriguez needs to up his SEO game. LinxPDX didn’t even have any of the common misspellings of “Charlize Theron” in the tags for that super-performing piece of journalism.
Wade: That “charlize theron nsfw” post was pretty biting and actually a pretty accurate appraisal of the challenges of “journalism” needing to compete in the same space as celebrity nip-slips these days. I love when the show is casually prescient, like their “Battle of the Gentle Bands” (ironically featuring master shredder J Mascis and known Black Flag lovers the Dirty Projectors!) the same week both Bon Iver albums went gold.
Thomas: And the sketch with Choo Choo the Cat’s cold case was a really lovely short story by Hipster O. Henry. The structure was so tight, and we got to see Aunt Marge ask how they were enjoying their gutter lifestyle.
Wade: I also just enjoyed hearing Fred say “Sacramento.”