TV: Portlandia

How to describe Portlandia? This is a weird, weird show. For some, it will be weird in a bad way, but for me — after a modest start as harmless background noise — it developed  into a real joy to watch.

This sketch comedy stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, who play a variety of characters, all of whom live — and sort of embody? — the city of Portland, Oregon. Portlandia’s Portland is extremely chill, a laid back haven for granola progressives, countercultural mavericks, and quirky denizens of all stripes. Armisen and Brownstein send up the city’s sensibilities with a loving mixture of derision, insight, and sympathy. It’s a singular idea for a show, and it makes for a very particular, and often peculiar, brand of comedy.

At first it feels like a standard descendant of the Saturday Night Live school of sketch comedy, if more improvisational and cleverly edited. Like much of SNL, the sketches, particularly early, are hit-or-miss. But as the show progresses, it gets more and more comfortable in its skin, delivering a unique brand of stream-of-conscious weirdness that elevates the humor from standard SNL punchlines to Pythonesque conceptual continuity. By season three, which features effective “through-lines” involving the Mayor (the ever-game Kyle MacLachlan, channeling chipper Agent Cooper attitude) and a new roommate (an interestingly deployed Chloë Sevigny), I started to find it pretty delightful. Those are just a couple of the stunt-cast guest stars that add to the fun. It will probably be to low key, odd, and/or stylized for everyone, but I’m getting a major kick out of it.

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