Keeping Portlandia Weird
Strident feminists, arrogant cyclists, and pious foodies: those are some of the urban oafs that inhabit the rapid-fire sketches of IFC's Portlandia. Skewering hipster culture through the lens of cool-obsessed Portland, Ore., the show became a surprise hit two years ago thanks to memorable characters almost entirely portrayed by Saturday Night Live star Fred Armisen and former Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein, now strumming for the band Wild Flag.
The show, which has its third season premiere Friday night, recently showcased a "Winter in Portland" special that brought back the abrasive lesbian employees of the Women and Women First bookstore (featuring Armisen in drag; see below). Don't get offended: while Armisen and Brownstein, the latter of which sometimes describes herself as bisexual, pokes fun at Portland's un-L Word gals, all of the wild creatures of the Rose City are skewered. Straight yuppies are often taken to task, especially their competiveness and status-conscious obsessions.
"My favorite experiences mostly revolve around the grocery store," Brownstein says of her real-life experiences in Portland, which she calls home. "I was in line behind this guy who had some nuts from the bulk bin and the cashier rang them up. When he typed in the code it came up as Brazil nuts and the guy goes, 'Those aren’t Brazil nuts, they're Macadamia nuts. The cashier said, 'That’s fine, I’ll charge you for the Brazil nuts.' He wouldn't have it. He was literally going to save twenty bucks, but was so insistent that everyone knew what kind of nut he was getting."
Armisen reports a similarly strange Portland experience: "I went to the movies and this girl came up to me and gave me a big loaf of French bread," he says. "So, I took it to the movie with me."
Armisen and Brownstein, which consider themselves non-sexual soulmates, don't feel they've yet mined all the jokes out of the nation's desperately-cool twenty- and thirtysomethings. They've even discussed taking the Portlandia experience to other cities.
"There might be something to explore in Pittsburgh," Armisen says. "Or Detroit. It seems like a weird, interesting city. It goes through so much hardship that so much great stuff comes from there. Minneapolis might be fun." Brownstein likes Milwaukee, personally.
Portlandia's third season premieres January 4 at 10 p.m. on IFC.