“He loves reality shows about logging or fishing, but if he starts just staring at the on-demand screen that’s when it’s time to turn it off.”
Subtlety was the key to Friday’s Portlandia — it took two viewings for Fred and Carrie’s cerebral cynicism to reveal itself and an episode devoid of laugh-out-loud moments to turn into one of the more quietly clever episodes this season. For one, the cold open with Joanna Newsom, Fred, Carrie, and several other friends including Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes as the hippy Tom Bombadil-worshipping minstrels jamming in the fields is more quaintly colorful and poetic than it is amusing, but it’s not until after we see said hippies arguing in the parking lot over carpooling and damage to Newsom’s priceless harp that this show’s true biting truths set in: “I’m gonna sue you guys. You destroyed a beautiful instrument,” Newsom says, to which Fred as Joaquin replies, “Why are you suing us? What kind of a vibe is that?”
“Motorcycle” follows Peter and Nance’s quest to claim back their fading hipness after they’re approached by a much younger, cooler, motorcycle-riding couple (Ehren McGhehey from Jackass plays the beefy biker hunk) looking for directions to the “new breakfast tapas place.” Feeling threatened by the newcomers’ coolness and their addressing Peter as “hey old man,” Peter and Nance buy their own motorcycles and try to restore their disappearing spontaneity. Carrie puts her best effort into trying to maneuver her way around in that uni-motorcycle, but Fred takes over these scenes with some really great one-liners that magnify the couple’s coolness crisis: “I saw this picture of myself sleeping – I loved it.” “We used to go out and do stuff all the time, watch TV late…” “We saw The Allman Brothers – a whole concert, almost.” Watching Peter and Nance awkwardly try to kiss with their helmets still on was another well-played display of their growing nerdiness.
Another worthwhile second viewing was the boyfriend sitter sketch with Portlandia’s favorite old lady Ellen Bloodworth (from last season’s hide-and-seek in the library) and the return of Fred and Carrie’s delightful gender-switch “cacao” couple Nina and Lance, who survived their near-fatal cardboard box attack from last year to treat us with a day of Nina nagging Lance into creating a Facebook account. Both scenes are essentially one-note jokes, but they both explore facets of the immature and infantilized boyfriend/husband/father-figure phenomenon a la Work It, punctuated when Lance gets stuck under his car hood and resorts to finding Nina through Facebook or when Fred (as Doug) scurries up the basement stairs on his hands and knees. Carrie also cracked me up as the businessy breadwinning girlfriend with some of her instructions to the sitter: “I should be home around midnight. I’d like him to go down around 11:30.”
Fred and Carrie’s hipster skewing usually runs on the fun optimist side, but when they get overly petty things drag, as is the case in the thrift store-themed sketch about “Saggy Ass Sad Girl Shorts” where Carrie’s character brings in a load of clothes and comes out dragging her trash bag of rejected items and a cool $1.65. More great Fred lines carried this sketch as he inspected the clothes – “Do you smoke a pipe?” “Oh my God, do you live on a banana farm?” “You must have been so depressed when you wore these.” Tying it all together with Portlandia’s trademark cyclicality, Peter and Nance end their journey for coolness when they approach an older, seemingly less hip couple lounging with iced teas on their porch, only to be invited in for a day of Pinot Grigio, foursome lovemaking, and a shared recount of the September 11th attacks that Peter can’t seem to remember (“How many planes was it, 33?”). Like so many moments on Portlandia, it’s a fractal whole, illustrating brilliantly how the need to feel young, hip, and connected can’t be satisfied by crazy backyard fire pit orgies or foursomes with oddball swingers – they’re just stuck in their heads trying to connect with the world by never leaving their own self-obsessed thought loops.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.