Portlandia Recap: ‘Baseball’

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Portlandia’s first season is over, and now we’ll have to wait another year for more cyclists, feminists, environmentalists, hotel employees, strippers, and more weird northwestern creatures from Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. These two packed so many memorable characters and scenarios into just six half-hour episodes, and Portlandia has certainly proven itself as something of an eternal giver of the weird-funny combined with the funny-weird.

“Baseball” follows Fred and Carrie as they put together a Portland baseball team for the mayor (Kyle MacLachlan). The tryouts are really an audition — they ask the players to make swinging bat sound effects, act out situations where they’re offered steroids, make metaphors for what a baseball really is, and take insults while balls are thrown at them to test their self-esteem. Fred instructs one player to move “back and forth sort of like I’m at an edit bay,” and I guess to a Portland athlete it’s a fair point of reference.

The PSA about Portland’s unemployed who end up getting jobs acting in PSAs where they can finish each other’s sentences was the show’s strongest opening segment to date. “Some of us get paid to start a sentence,” Carrie’s character says, “and the others get paid to finish it,” continues another Portlander. According to the commercial, the best thing about the job is that anyone can do it — “grandfathers, cyclists, soccer cousins, idiots, people who are not good at reading” — so there’s hope for a lower unemployment rate as long as there are PSAs to be made. It was smart, fast, well-edited, and set a great opening tone for the episode.

I’ve been in mourning since my favorite Portlandia characters were eaten alive by the cardboard box that threatened their sex life (Oh cacao couple, please resurrect!), but even without them, “Baseball” had a lot of memorable characters. The newest of the bunch were Fred and Carrie playing workers at artisanal light bulb shop Wilson Lightbulbs, with Fred as the passionate boss and Carrie as D’Arcy, the employee with an ever-present cold who Fred’s character thinks is “more concerned with working at a cool place” than doing a good job.

The Feminist Bookstore ladies return in a sketch about their weekly “journaling workshop,” and Heather Graham guest stars as a newcomer to the group whose journal entries gush about her amazing boyfriend and tantric sex experiments. After Heather finishes reading her entry, Toni (Carrie) tells her “I feel like that is a brag journal, and what a journal should be is a document of misery.” But minutes later Toni takes Heather to a secluded section of the store and showers her with wonderfully bizarre pick-up lines: “I do a lot of canning of jams and I would like to can you.” “I feel like there’s a unicorn inside you.” “Between the two of us there are four breasts — do you know what that means?”

Least memorable of the episode was the couple who bring a full kitchen and living room setup with them to the park to see a film (the same couple who freed the chained dog a few episodes back), and a sketch where a photographer for the local dining guide comes to Katchenza to take pictures of Fred and Carrie as the chefs. This episode has much more to offer than this scene of Fred and Carrie playing around, which is — sigh — the only clip available online right now from IFC.

“Baseball” not only had the strongest opening sketch of the season, but it also had the strongest ending, and I can’t ask a season finale for more than that. When Fred and Carrie show the mayor the baseball team they’ve finally assembled, the mayor and Carrie’s brainstorming starts wandering off to irrelevant details like little animations, performances, and mascots they can incorporate into the team, just little things the mayor says will happen “in between all the stuff” (“The game?” Fred asks). Soon the idea to start a baseball team transforms into an idea to start an animated television show with Batty Batterson, Mitty Mitchell, and Grumpy Grumpire, and Fred gets on board when he gets an idea to “do a little pumpkin logo” for their Thanksgiving episode. The chances of the show materializing are about the same as the baseball team materializing, the unemployed getting jobs other than being in unemployment PSAs, or the bookstore ladies not getting offended by the “slavery of the penis,” and that’s the beautiful cycle Portlandia discovers over and over: You can’t have much progress in a town with an overabundance of artists and a complete lack left-brainers.

It’s been a promising season — what did you think?

Megh Wright is a writer, TV addict, and Harrisburg native. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York and is a Gawker TV contributor.