“PORTLANDIA,” that quirky show about Portland on IFC, as Portland natives might call it, continues to do very well. It has got to be a challenge to step into Season 2 of any show, especially one that suddenly had people talking who are now all too ready to expect the unexpected. When you have folks happily repeating lines from the show (“Portland, that’s where young people go to retire!”) you’ve got something special. It is sort of like what happened with “Seinfeld” although on a much more low-key level. I mean, that’s like comparing New York City to Portland, Oregon, don’t you think? Very different and yet both sharing a similar urbane and neurotic vibe. On “Portlandia,” the natives seem very mellow but they suffer from an excessive need to be in the know and be right mixed with an excessive need to be polite and sensitive. All this adds up to the stereotypical, although pretty real, passive-agressive “charm” of the Pacific Northwest. Season 1 had the element of surprise in dissecting this charm. Season 2 gets to further refine the show’s vision.
The marketing behind this season has picked up on “relationships” as being the overarching theme. But, at the end of the day, the biggest theme is what gave this show legs in the first place: human excess. The fact that the show is set in a hipsterdom like Portland just makes things all the better. And here’s the thing that can confuse some people. This show is not about hating Portland by any means. Look, I love the show and I also love Portland. I’m from Seattle. I’m liberal. I’m creative. I’m just one step away from stepping out of an episode of the show. But I don’t care for the Pacific Northwest “charm.” So, if you’re too close to the “Portlandia” lifestyle, that’s one reason you may fail to understand the show. Another reason is this thing about humor. This show has its particular sense of humor. If you were to just jump in, you may not get the show unless you’re already a fan of sketch comedy. Of course, people can find endless reasons not to get something. That’s a big point of this show!
Looking at the last three episodes, I have to admit, the relationship theme is there. It’s always been there in the sense that the show is inextricably linked to Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s collaborative work. But there seems to be more of a focus on it. The first episode, “Mixologist,” had Carrie swooning over a bartender who made the most amazing drinks. The most recent episode, “Cool Wedding,” had the annoyingly self-righteous bicycle messenger getting married. There was also a hilarious sketch with Carrie dating Eddie Vedder. Maybe, with the second season, it’s time to refine the show’s course. That said, its absurdist satire is still intact. There’s that little gem of a sketch with Jeff Goldblum, the owner of a gallery that sells knots made by local artists. There’s a very cool and artful bit with Carrie as an enamored owner of an iPhone. Of course, we have the new catchphrase for this season: “I can pickle that!” which replaces last season’s “Put a bird on it!” And “A-O River!” might prove the replacement for “Cacao.” Oh, and then there’s the postman with a sinister connection to the classic film, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” And this is only three episodes in. What is not to like, really?
Arguably the best segment yet, has Carrie and Fred as a couple who happen to fall into watching a DVD of the first season of “Battlestar Gallactica” only to find themselves so absorbed by the show that they can’t do anything else but watch season after season, destroying their lives in the process. But then it goes one step further and then another. I will only tell you that it is utterly hilarious.
So, even if you don’t think sketch comedy is quite for you, you’ll likely enjoy this show. Or maybe you find yourself being that person who chastises others when they forget to bring their own bag to the grocery store. Well, give the show a try. Or maybe you are one of those people who demands, in a very polite way, for the other driver to go ahead at a four way stop. Hey, live a little. Give the show a try.