By our guest blogger, Nick Hanover
If I was a new viewer, I can honestly say that this episode of "Portlandia" would have immediately turned me off permanently. That may sound harsh, but there's one very important rule of comedy that one should pretty much always follow--make your audience laugh. "Blunderbuss" failed at following that rule and it failed hard--there were no moments that I laughed during the episode and there were very few moments where I felt like I was being entertained at all.
Quite likely the biggest reason for this was the overwhelming use of guest stars this time around. Two members of the Decemberists, one former member of Sleater-Kinney, James Mercer from the Shins, Gus van Sant and Selma Blair all made appearances, all to varying degrees of worth. The appearances all made sense in their own way, given the overarching story of the Blunderbuss Festival.
But that overarching story itself can shoulder some of the blame. Sketch comedy doesn't need to have a story, or an overarching point, especially if those things get in the way of, well, comedy. Which is exactly what happened in this episode, where everything was forced into the realm of "Blunderbuss" and there were no sketches that took us away from that. "Portlandia" seems to work best when Fred and Carrie's adventures (their characters were notably absent this episode, too) play out in one series of sketches while unrelated sketches give the viewer breaks.
Since everything in "Blunderbuss" was about "Blunderbuss" in one way or another, there was never a chance for real absurdity or a break from the storyline. There was a poster war between a Blunderbuss street teamer and someone missing their cat, the continual efforts of an artist calling herself "SparklePony" to appear in the festival, acupuncture that was soundtracked by a Blunderbuss band (maybe?) and the antics of two hotel clerks who try too hard at schmoozing with Blunderbuss bands. It all ran together as one big unfunny mush.
Luckily, this isn't the note that "Portlandia" will be ending its otherwise promising first season on. There's one more episode and hopefully Fred and Carrie will put more effort into having it end the season on the right foot but for some viewers it might already be too late.