“Cheese boats are dope.”
In “Mixology,” Carrie is treated to a free “ginger-based bourbon drink infused with honey, lemon, and charred ice” topped off with tomato, homemade bitters, eggs, lime zest, and rotten bananas made lovingly by a Portland mixologist (Andy Samberg) who Carrie went to summer camp with as a child. It’s the best drink she’s ever had, and after Fred tells her it’s clearly a romantic gesture, she decides to make him a drink-themed mix tape in return… but the next night he’s gone down to SoCal, so the road trip odyssey begins.
In California, Fred and Carrie are forced to wear burkas to cover their sensitive northwestern skin from the freakishly severe sun rays of the south (“What is that?” “It’s the sun!” “Why isn’t it covered by clouds!?”) and take refuge in a restaurant called Around the World in 80 Plates, where Kumail Nanjiani plays their menu lingo-obsessed waiter who starts out with the dreaded phrase “We do things a little differently here” then bombards the two with options like “Would you guys like to Breakfastize your meal? Basically we roll up everything you have into an omelet” and “Do you want to Lobsterate your meal? We just put a whole lobster on top.” “I doubt you do that,” Fred says. “I doubt that’s even in existence.” As the two slowly starve, the waiter shows no sign of slowing down in presenting them with endless bizarre options and add-ons.
Portlandia’s most memorable recurring couples from last season return, starting with Bryce and Lisa of “Put a Bird on It” fame, now back to pickle everything from dead birds to used band-aids to empty jewel cases. Next, Dave and Kath stake out ground in public places, this time at a river where they spend most of their time rehearsing their emergency procedures and berating tubers for drinking beer. Feminist Bookstore owners Candace and Toni are easily my favorite returning duo, and this time their trigger was the air conditioner repairman’s use of the word “unit.” “Every time you say the word ‘unit’ or ‘box’ or ‘equipment,’” Toni tells him, “I feel a penis here, I feel a penis here, I feel a penis here – I am halfway to pregnant.”
When Fred and Carrie arrive at Windjammers, the club where Carrie’s mixologist admirer now works, Carrie can’t snap him out from his new dudebro ladies’-man persona until she sings the Camp Portland song for him. After he remembers his Portland roots, Carrie finally gives him the mix tape called “Mix Drinks,” including songs like “Ice Ice Baby,” “Gin and Juice,” and “Bitches Brew.” The main points aren’t nearly as entertaining as the details like the mix tape playlist, some of the menu items at Around the World in 80 Plates (I would gladly try duck triangles, cheese boats, deep fried salad, or “The Rachel”), the books Candace and Toni give to the repairman (A Bunny’s Tail and S/HE), and the bro-talk pleasantries between Fred and Andy Samberg’s mixologist-turned-bartender (“How’s it goin’ buddy” “Good, you good man?” “How was your trip down here?” “Oh awesome” “Oh really?”).
As Portlandia’s season premiere proves, there’s a huge difference between a mixologist – a meticulously artistic lover and craftsman of alcoholic concoctions – and “just a bartender.” This distinction carries over to all of Fred and Carrie’s characters from the pleated khaki-wearing couple Dave and Kath and their obsession with rules and territorialism to the Feminist Bookstore owners Toni and Candace interpreting every word as an anti-feminist put-down to Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman’s talent for turning the most arbitrary items into a chic fad, from last season’s decor tip “Put a bird on it!” to their latest catchphrase “We can pickle that!” Portlandia has kept its characters as strangely specific as season one, but this time around it’s met with sillier sound effects, tighter editing, months of hype, and a lot more guests. Top it off with a sold-out nationwide tour, and it’s safe to say that this season has lofty expectations to meet.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.