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 Brow Beat editor David Hagland.
Chris Wade: So David, this season of Portlandia has a definite older feeling to it. It deals with people aging out of their “cool” years. The runner sketch of this episode—parents trying to make a “cool” band for kids—reminded me of this in the same vein as the “Take Back MTV” material from a few episodes ago.
David Haglund: To a degree, sure, but I think this show has always been about aging hipsters, going back to its “thesis statement” sketch, “Dream of the ‘90s.” In that one, Fred asks Carrie if she remembers what the ‘90s were like—if you were, roughly speaking, in your 20s in the ‘90s.
Wade: True. But now it seems to have moved from characters who never grew up to characters trying to recapture youth.
Haglund: I have, by the way, heard parents complain about kids’ music being too silly in the Slate office, so that one hit home (though I don’t have kids myself). Also, “Shortstop Sleepover” is a genuinely good name for a band. (“The Defiance of Anthropomorphic Sea Mammals,” not so much.)
Wade: I really liked “Goofus.” I think there was a lot of great stuff in this series of sketches. Carrie’s “Who says a kid can’t enjoy the guitar solo in a Dinosaur Jr song?” was probably my line of the night, and I really enjoyed the early Sonic Youth-like mess their serious kids’ band ended up sounding like.
Haglund: “Kids like time changes and interesting time signatures.”
Wade: And Matt Berry, who played Squiggleman and who is a hilarious performer from some great U.K. shows like The IT Crowd and the cult favorite Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, is always delightful, though somewhat underutilized here. Like a lot of sketches this season, the kids’ band plot has a great premise that somewhat fizzles out in the end, besides the pretty great callback to last season’s Cat Nap episode with the Pitchfork kids.
Haglund: It wasn’t as funny as the farting sketch. You can be as high-concept as you want, but farting is pretty much always funny. Although a farting patio is not only funny but a legitimately good idea.
Wade: I was doing a “really, Portlandia?” eye-roll at the beginning of that sketch, but as soon as I read the phrase “Fart Patio,” they won me over. But notice it’s also a sketch about older people trying something young and hip (a raw food restaurant) and having a difficulty adapting to it.
Haglund: We have to talk about the opening sketch, about what it means to be a nerd.
Wade: Yes. It seems the issue of nerd-authenticity has suddenly become a weirdly hot-button topic, right? There was a Slate piece on it this week.
Haglund: I thought the bit was reasonably well done. (I take it those were actual nerds, not actors? Seemed like it, anyway.) Except that it was, essentially, another instance of that bogus “fake geek girl” trope. Why are all the nerds men? And the fake nerd is a pretty girl? Seemed surprisingly retrograde for this show, of all shows.
Wade: It gets at where this gender-fraught authenticity problem comes from: that “real nerds” aren’t nerds by choice, but they’re made so through marginalization. It’s not that girls can’t be nerds but that having a fringe identity taken and appropriated by people perceived to be in the mainstream is upsetting. Especially when it’s the kind of person you may have felt marginalized by (say, a pretty, popular girl) to become a “nerd” in the first place.
Haglund: Yes, and kudos to Portlandia for, once again, feeling more of-the-moment than almost anything else you’ll find on TV.