By our guest blogger, Nick Hanover
I'm not really sure what to think about the season finale of "Portlandia" yet. There was quite a bit of improvement in "Baseball" over the last episode, "Blunderbuss," but it didn't hit the same series highs that the middle episodes did. The missteps in the episode also fit with the problems that the season as a whole has had and made it hard not to take the show to task for its lack of consistency.
"Baseball" started out relatively strong with a short, simple sketch that lampooned the feel-good unemployment ads that are popping up everywhere. Structured as a PSA about how Portland is going to become the first city with 100% employment, the joke rested on the clever concept of keeping everyone employed through the use of commercials that need people to finish each other's sentences. If you've seen any political or community ads in the last decade then you've seen this odd phenomenon of editing the commercials in a way where every person on-screen is telepathically linked to the other, making for one big group think. The opening sketch wasn't exactly hilarious, but it was entertaining and mercifully brief.
That said, it was only a manner of seconds before "Portlandia" fell into bad habits again, with the sketch that unified this episode. The Mayor runs into Fred and Carrie at a coffee shop and tells them about his trip to Baltimore. Being the quirky Mayor, he only appears inside at random and seemingly through the magic of teleportation. The Mayor was most amazed by the Baltimore Orioles and wants Fred and Carrie to put together a baseball team for Portland, one that can reflect the magic and charm of Portland. He even gives them the name: The Portland Thinkers.
The best sketch of the episode luckily came immediately after, with a commercial/documentary/something or other about an artisan lightbulb maker played by Fred. It might just be me, but I'm pretty sure the sketch was a dig on perennial Seattle/Tacoma punchline Dale Chihuly and specifically this video and others like it. Chihuly is notable in the PNW for his glass works which are apparently bought in obscene numbers by bored old ladies everywhere and their executive husbands. The guy is so ubiquitous he even managed to get the city of Tacoma to build him a freaking glass museum. Oh, and he wears an eyepatch and has crazy hair. Like Phil Spector crazy.
Fred's lightbulb artist didn't look anywhere near as goofy as Chihuly and he wasn't even half as crazy or kooky. The humor of the sketch was instead left to Carrie, playing the artist's lone employee, a woman who has had the cold for five years and can't do much of anything right. In between falling into coughing fits, she also manages to confuse orange and green glass, electrocutes herself and constantly asks Fred if he's talking about her.
Outside of a stronger than normal Woman's Bookstore sketch (which featured a basically pointless cameo from Heather Graham but also offered what was quite possibly the most hilarious journal reading ever from a bit player) and a great performance from Fred at the end of the baseball sketch as the lone guy trying to keep everyone else on task, the rest of the show was decent but not fun or worthwhile. It wasn't enough to make me lose faith in the series but it didn't exactly leave me begging for more. But with the show renewed, hopefully Fred and Carrie will use the time off to get the show up to the level it should be at.