TV Club

Portlandia recap: Life under Roseanne.

Props to the props, the editors, and the sound department.

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in Portlandia.

Photo by Frank DiMarco/IFC

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 We’re Matt Weir, a New York-based sketch duo composed of comedians Matt J. Weir and Matt B. Weir.

Chris Wade: All right, Matts Weir, time to see what Portlandia is like under a Roseannarchist regime.

Matt B. Weir: Is it Portlandian that I originally bought the Washed Out EP with the theme song on cassette? Then flipped it for $30 at the height of his hype?

Chris: Definitively Portlandian.  Now, you two have a lot of experience writing and performing live sketch in comedy clubs. What do you see in Portlandia that others might not?

Matt B.: Matt and I talk about rhythm and pacing a lot.  And Portlandia has some of the best editors for comedy on the planet—guys like Bill Benz, Daniel Gray Longino, and Doug Lussenhop—who’ve been busy establishing this now familiar breakneck form of sketch editing since Tom Goes to the Mayor.  So I find myself watching the show and thinking “Yes, yes, awesome.”

Matt J. Weir: The structure of Portlandia holds somewhat true to how you do things live. The sketches are set up quickly, and then move from joke to joke via jump cuts. It cuts out fat and ignores real time. They use their medium to their advantage, but it’s taught me not to be afraid to leap from joke to joke on stage.

Chris: This episode specifically had exceptional rhythm and pace. The balance between the Roseanne-becoming-the-mayor plot (which continues last week’s story) and strong standalone sketches was all spot-on.  Nothing dragged and each sketch stayed quick and effective individually, making the whole episode work even better.  I was skeptical of Portlandia’s new-found plotiness, but this episode really proved they could do it right.

Matt B.:  I love the idea of Roseanne becoming mayor through a temp agency.  I wish we could have seen more of the “temps as government officials” world.

Chris: It took a while to get there, but Roseanne wanting to make Portland a “real” city by making coffee shops for coffee drinking only, removing bike lanes, disabling free Wi-Fi and adding pee-smell was a great foil for Kyle McLachlan’s cheerfully naive progressivism.

Matt B.: I just wish we could have seen more of her regime in effect. It would be great to see the squares of Portland rise up against Roseanne.

Matt J.: That’s my main problem with the show. They need to blow out the ideas more, take them further, make the stakes higher. Roseanne is telling them flat out how “different” Portland is, something their show has been showing us over three seasons.

Matt B.: If a character is going to appear and just call out the show, shouldn’t Carrie and Fred react to that?  Instead they just shrug it off.

Chris: It’s true. The final sketch should have been Portland transformed into a horrible dystopia under the iron fist of Roseanne, but instead Fred just calls her and tells her to leave and she does. There’s a conflict in Portlandia’s new direction between keeping everything low-stakes so the joke is people freaking out about nothing, and also wanting to create bigger arcs that require higher stakes to get the right payoff. Good thing there’s so much other good material to bolster this week’s plot.

Matt J.:  I love the Baristas’ Manifesto sketch, where the coffee shop workers have a secret meeting to air workplace complaints. 

Chris: It had that great little game of them confusing yelling figuratively at customers with yelling at each other.

Matt B.: That’s something Portlandia makes sure to do: Whatever the premise, they give Fred and Carrie a misunderstanding to have between each other. Matt and I are a comedy duo who are as close as friends as we are as working partners, and I am in awe of their chemistry.

Matt J.: I like the ending, too. After this secretive barista meeting planning a manifesto, it’s immediately taken down by an everyday-type manager.

Chris: It’s a good example of how low stakes can be funny if treated absurdly seriously. Which is also going on in the Hippie Gym Membership sketch. A consummate, guitar-circle loving hippie being ashamed of his friends finding out he joined a gym and is focusing on his health seems as true as it is hilarious.

Matt B.: I love that it ended with the friends changing their ways and becoming gym members. I paused the episode to see what everyone looked like in gym clothes. And they used sound so well with Fred’s beeping watch alarm interrupting the natural freak-folk vibes.

Matt J.: Good point Matt. It was the hippie, laid-back world against that on-time, corporate workforce world, all in sound.

Chris: Finally, we’ve got a return of the animated rats.  I didn’t love them when we first saw them last season, but this time I laughed out loud the most of anything this season. My line of the night was the response to “I don’t think being confrontational is the way to go, think about Salman Rushdie.” “He’s dating models, he’s fine.”

Matt B.: People, the book the rats’ make to slander humans, should be a runaway bestseller.

Chris: And I just want to point out that the cassettes in the rats’ apartment read “Trenchmouth” (the amazing band Fred drummed for in the ‘90s), “Shut Up, Little Mouse” (a parody of the infamous “Shut Up, Little Man” cassettes?) and “Sleater-Kinney vs. Wild Flag” (Carrie’s amazing bands).  So props for the props from our stars’ musical endeavors.

Matt B.: They should have had my Washed Out cassette in there. Too bad I flipped it.