"Portlandia" Episode 1 "Pilot"

1/30/2011 Posted by Admin

"Portlandia" Episode 1 "Pilot"

Television Review

By our guest blogger, Nick Hanover

It may be far too early to tell what the destiny of "Portlandia" is, but even in its admittedly ramshackle, uneven pilot, the new sketchy comedy show from Fred Armisen and former Sleater-Kinney cofounder Carrie Brownstein offers quite a bit of promise.

"Portlandia," as its title indicates, is centered around the very real city of Portland, Oregon, which Fred convinces Carrie is a place where the "Dream of the '90s is still alive." Anyone who's spent a decent amount of time in Portland knows that it isn't an entirely unfair assessment. But more than just being a joke, the focus on Portland gives "Portlandia" a stability and central motif that most sketch shows--even the great ones--lack.

And lord knows we need a decent sketch comedy show right now.

Since the end of "Human Giant," which lest you forget gave the world Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer, we've been lacking a truly dynamic, unique sketch comedy program on the airwaves. Let's be frank, "SNL" has been a joke for most of the decade and anything that's great is either British or a performance art spectacle like "Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!," which you could theoretically argue isn't a sketch show at all. "Portlandia" is by no means great yet but there are glimpses at the type of thematically linked greatness that "Human Giant," "Upright Citizens Brigade" and the legendary "Mr. Show" all shared.

"Portlandia" structures its first episode around Fred and Carrie as two insufferable organic diners who are so in need of details concerning where their meal came from that they actually go visit the farm where their chicken lived. In between are sketches about an insufferable co-op feminist bookstore (previously seen in the on-line incarnation of "Portlandia," called "Thunderant"), an insufferable hide-and-go-seek team and an insufferable, technologically addicted couple who have an accident with "mind-fi." You've probably noticed a certain emphasis on a certain adjective there and that's where we run into the first flaw in "Portlandia."

Whether because it's the pilot or just because Fred and Carrie aren't entirely sure how to transition their Web material to television, the sketches, for the most, part feel a little off and a little narrow. Outside of the fantastic cold open, which provides the music video that gives the show it's "where the dream of the '90s still lives" tagline, most of the sketches lack a certain energy and that might be because the characters in each are just varying shades of the same color. Part of this is likely because the sketches drag on longer than they need to but most of it is because every character is, again, insufferable.

In comedy you don't need to like characters, of course, but it's important that some sympathy can be utilized for maximum value and that the characters don't run together, even if they are one note. All of the characters on "Portlandia" are, for the moment, just the same cliched Portland idiot. Picky organic eaters, childish adults who don't want to grow up, self-absorbed feminists--this isn't groundbreaking.

Nonetheless, the chemistry between Fred and Carrie is potent and every sketch has at least one moment that makes it worth it. The hide-and-go-seek sketch in particular gets in some excellent bits with Fred and an elderly woman and Steve Buscemi's cameo in the feminist bookstore is fantastic as is Jason Sudeikis in a role that just needs to be seen. The going rumor from critics who actually got a review copy of the next episode is that it's a vast improvement, so I can't wait. And hey, "Mr. Show" wasn't exactly a classic straight out of the gate either.

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