Created on: March 11, 2013
While mainstream television sitcoms clunk along, the Internet and cable channels have leapt ahead with bright and funny new material. Among the best is the satirical, but always mirthful, “Portlandia.” This Independent Film Channel (IFC) production is the brain child of Fred Armisen (of “Saturday Night Live” fame) and Carrie Brownstein (lead singer and musician in the band Wild Flag). Together, with the support of Lorne Michaels as executive producer, they have created a Peabody-winning show that’s easy to love.
The show is set in and around the city of Portland, Oregon, and even the mayor has appeared in episodes (as the assistant to the television version, played by Kyle MacLachlan). There’s also the sculpture that appears at the opening of the show, which is indeed titled “Portlandia,” and can be seen by visitors at the entrance to the Portland Building on Fifth Avenue.
Show’s focus and fun-making
As a comedy, “Portlandia” finds its humor in the socially and politically correct, environmentally conscious, healthy lifestyle that characterizes Portland and its citizens. As noted by Policymic.com, “Filmed on location, the show draws on the typical stereotypes of Portlanders — the tree huggers and impractical bicyclists, the feminists and vegans and ambiguous gender-identifications — and blasts them out of proportion. The result: hilarity.”
“Newsday” muses thus: “’Portlandia’ is a satire of the city’s subcultures: animal and biker rights activists, feminists, ‘90s-era hipsters, folkies, transgenders, anarchists, bisexuals, radical vegans, greens and all others who harbor a seething bias against Seattle for being a bigger and somewhat cooler city.” As for its main characters (expertly played by Armisen, Brownstein and a host of guest actors), “Newsday” notes they “move so effortlessly between characters, then execute their riffs, tics, styles and voices with such skilled abandon that before long this doesn’t seem like satire any longer but a fun house mirror reflection of intensely real people.”
Is Portland really like that?
Not surprisingly, Portland is a city that can laugh at itself and has embraced the show. It’s a city full of situations ripe for the picking for comedy. In what other city can Americans find a vegan strip club? Or encounter a sales clerk who shows disdain for a customer who failed to bring his own bag?
As a city full of dreamers, artists and bicycle-riding, non-meat-eating young people, the show begins to seem only slightly askew from the reality. What makes it work is that the citizens of Portland are not opposed to the show or making fun of themselves. In fact, they have learned how to capitalize on the situation, with the real-life bicycle folks incorporating “Portlandia” sites on bike tours of the city and local businesses making a tidy profit from the tourists who come looking for “the show.”
As lead actor Fred Armisen puts it, “Portland is a solid, dreamy place.” And some critics have even suggested that the joke may be on those who only see Portland through the comic eyes of the show, noting, “When you think about it, the rest of the country’s ignorance is as much the punchline as Portland itself.”
Learn more about this author, Christine Zibas.
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