By our guest blogger, Nick Hanover
I really need to stop commending shows for big leaps in development because every time I do (re: Shameless), they fall down a notch or two immediately after. Such is the case with "Portlandia," whose last episode I loved for getting its pace perfect and avoiding the agonizingly long sketches some shows wind up making endlessly (coughSNLcough).
But let me back up a bit here. "Mayor is Missing" wasn't bad, per se, it was just decidedly less consistent and less funny than "Aimee" was. Some sketches, like the Mayor disappearing to join a "real roots reggae" band, worked only because of the talent of the people involved, namely McLachlan. Other sketches, like the completely wasteful "Birthday," simply went nowhere, had no hook and could generally be written off as filler. And filler is killer when it comes to sketch comedy.
That being said, there were numerous sketches that worked extremely well and showcased some of the assets of the "Portlandia" team that can be occasionally missed in favor of the hipster-targeting. There was the house sitting sketch which saw the return of guest star Aubrey Plaza and the "Put a Bird on It!" characters, which placed Fred directly in the spotlight, allowing him to do his peculiar brand of physically verbal comedy. In lesser hands, that sketch would have been an unbearable epic, with missed beats and awkward pauses but Armisen handled it expertly, really selling the character's harmless psychosis. The shot of the three characters in bed while Fred explained what expressions he likes to use to fall asleep and wake up was one of the show's best moments.
Elsewhere, during the main storyline that found Fred and Carrie seeking out the missing mayor, a sketch about cell companies managed to overcome its origins and transform into a brilliantly absurd exploration of language, the type of comedy that you would never, ever see on the current incarnation of SNL. Fred really was the MVP this episode, elevating everything he was in and making an extremely strong case that he's been a vastly underrated comedian for several years now.
Not that Carrie didn't have her moments. A sketch that found her lost in the labyrinth of uber-ad agency Wieden + Kennedy only worked because of her way of making her eyes do a lot of the acting work for her. Brownstein has come into her own in the last few episodes and has hit on a vast reservoir of comedy gold that comes from the way she can change her entire tone through a look--that may not sound like high praise but when you think about the extremes most comedians milk for laughs and understand how effective her minimalism is you'll realize just how valuable her skill truly is.
All in all, this episode had its moments and it's not like any sketch show, even the absolute greats, ever bats a thousand. But after "Aimee," it was just a bit of a letdown to have "Portlandia" throw out an episode that just wasn't as fleet-footed and confident.