“The sink is really weird — it’s going to look like there’s no faucet, but whenever you feel the need to brush your teeth or whatever, don’t worry about it, it will happen.”
By now Fred and Carrie have created a Portland theme song, ordered Aimee Mann to clean their stove, found the mayor playing in a reggae band, and gone to a farm to see where the chicken they ordered at a restaurant grew up, but Portlandia’s fifth episode “Blunderbuss” revolved around an event instead of characters or observational parody. A large part of the show’s charm comes from riffing around a small plot with Fred and Carrie playing themselves or other characters, and until now I’ve relied on these threads to stay grounded amongst the Portland hipster chaos. While the lack of a central Fred-and-Carrie plot might be why I found this to be the draggiest episode to date, I have to give Portlandia props for always opting for the more difficult choices. Aside from a lost kitten who loves music and a singer with a weird pony fantasy, I found myself laughing out loud less than usual this week. At least now they have eleven episodes left instead of one.
In the beginning of the episode, an all-out telephone pole flyer war ensues between the owner of Jenny the lost kitten and a Blunderbuss Music and Film Festival promoter. The two take turns reclaiming the pole for their cause (the Blunderbuss flyer features bands like Dayjawb, Mad Dad, and Some Dude, and the Missing Cat flyer says “Named ‘Jennifer’ but responds to ‘Jenny’”) and it ends when the cat owner’s hands are taped and chained to the pole and defeated by the badass drilling and duct-taping festival promoter. In the following scene, Fred and Carrie play employees at a hotel that offers guests no sink faucets but complimentary typewriters and turntables, and they stall when Blunderbuss headliner band Echo Echo arrives to check in, played by Carrie’s Sleater-Kinney bandmate Corin Tucker, The Shins’ James Mercer, and The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy.
Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists also appears as Sparklepony, a musician who arrives for the festival but is repeatedly turned down at every venue only to drift off into her inner happy place where she can be with the imaginary-friend pony she loves. She is tricked into going to Alaska where she performs at her hotel for the workers who were fired from Deuce Hotel. Watching her drift off to be with her pony while still hearing the voices of bouncers and scenester-types ridiculing her was absolutely hilarious, especially when Carrie’s glam groupie character says “But I mean no offense, but like are you on the pill? Because, like, no guy would want to get you pregnant.” Conlee’s oddball cuteness makes her character fit perfectly into the strangeness of the Portlandia world, and I thought her story did the most work for the episode.
The opening flyer war sketch was a lot like last week’s opening “Did you read it?” sketch, only with a pink hammer and tape guns instead of cool publication name-dropping. The Deuce Hotel sketch and last week’s Aubrey Plaza house-sitter sketch were similar in that it’s just Fred and Carrie playing uptight weirdos opposite famous guest stars, and also because it’s the one part of the episode IFC’s made available online (GRR IFC!). Also, Sparklehorse’s Alaskan hotel performance was a very similar moment to Aimee Mann’s living room performance two weeks ago — why do Fred and Carrie like to play audience members who like to make performers feel as uncomfortable as possible? It’s a meta move that shows how awkward an audience full of performers can be, and it’s what happens when two musician-turned-comedians make a show together and fill it with musicians and comedians.
Gus Van Sant and Selma Blair also appear at a film screening in one of the lesser gender-spoofing bits I’ve seen from Carrie, and both the episode’s vague plot (a music and film festival we never really get to witness) and overabundance of guest appearances weighed down the humor and left me feeling a little lost outside of the inside joke on this one, but damn do I wish I were in on it. Now that Portlandia has been given a second season, I’m curious how it will stretch and expand the ultra-specific world it’s created across another ten episodes, but for a city where everyone’s some type of struggling artist, they have enough characters to last them a while.
Megh Wright is a writer, TV addict, and Harrisburg native. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York and is a Gawker TV contributor.