If it weren’t for Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, the rest of America might never have known about freestyle canoers, artisanal lightbulb shop owners, angry bicycle rights activists, and all the other things that make Portlandia so post-hip hilarious. No matter where you live, there’s most likely a Portlandia sketch that nails a side of you and your neighbors like no other show, whether it’s arrogance, a need to fit in, or a perceived hate for any kind of urban subculture, from feminists to locavores to dumpster divers. I’m a big fan, but I’m from Harrisburg – I’d never traveled further west than the Pennsylvania/Ohio border, so I often wondered just how similar Fred and Carrie’s Portland is to its real-world counterpart. This past August, armed only with my phone and a longing to see the Pacific Northwest, I finally got the chance to find out. Here’s my recap of the trip complete with some behind-the-scenes peeks into Portlandia’s upcoming third season.
I arrive at PDX on an overcast Sunday afternoon and feel instantly transformed into the Portlandia opening credits. Everything’s blue and green and a little eerie in the near-empty terminal like the opening scene of a Stephen King movie. Note the slow shambling elegance of the airport denizens.
Early Monday morning on and around Hawthorne Boulevard: The amount of quirky houses, alternative healing centers, and item-specific shops here is mind-blowing, like the Wal-Mart has been melted down into a thousand little pieces and cast to the four winds.
Portlandia wasn’t exaggerating with their season 1 “Flyer Wars” sketch, and I like that.
After walking as long as I can, I meet a friend at Hawthorne Street Cafe to partake in a Portlandia specialty – brunch. Marionberry pancakes – the question is, which came first, the sketch or the menu item? The waiter is too busy saying “I love you I love you” every five minutes for me to ask.
It’s finally time to show up to the Portlandia set at Albina Press, where I meet co-creator/director Jonathan Krisel, producer David Cress, and Fred Armisen, who welcomes me with a big hug. Carrie arrives soon after, and I learn that Patton Oswalt is already inside filming part of his scene as a famous party evite responder.
Here’s Jonathan Krisel watching Patton Oswalt do push-ups. Right away I learn just how improvised Portlandia is – every take is a little different, with Fred, Carrie, Patton, and Jonathan all suggesting new ideas between each cut. Fred tells me that all the paintings hanging on the walls are the same ones from the “Bad Art Good Walls” sketch from season 2.
Fred and Carrie preach the Good Word of Portland on SE 51st Avenue for the last shot of the day (it’s supposed to be Seattle). Carrie runs me into some bushes with her bicycle, saying “I’m gonna make you run into plants and nature – you don’t get enough of that in Brooklyn.”
Day two starts with a street scene with Carrie, and I fall in love with all these fake flyers. The fact that the show puts this much detail into everything is cool to see firsthand. It makes me want to zoom in to all the past seasons’ telephone poles.
Here’s a photo of a bunch of Fred Armisen clones posing for me boy band-style. Some are interns and PAs, and the one on the right’s in a local band.
Fred and Carrie being adorable together.
Fred and I chat about our favorite SNL cast members during some downtime. Because he’s one of my personal favorites, the conversation grows awkward. He changes the subject to his love for Martin Lawrence’s long-canceled Fox sitcom Martin as well as his love for Splitsider, especially Ramsey’s Paley Center column. Fred Armisen: Splitsider Reader.
Jonathan Krisel at work. He asks me several times throughout my two days how I’m doing, if I’m having fun, and what I’ve seen in Portland so far.
Here are some of the guys who work behind the scenes. Look at those manly beards.
Carrie, Fred, and Jonathan.
Here’s the final Tuesday location. Fred’s running from something, but what is it???
Carrie – who lives in Portland year-round – and I talk about my early Wednesday flight back to New York, and I tell her where I ate (the food trucks across from Lardo, Sizzle Pie, Dick’s Kitchen) and where I didn’t get a chance to eat (Why do you close at 2:00PM, Pine State Biscuits!?). I ask for a picture and we take a “nice” and “mean” one together. She also mentions she’s a Splitsider fan and highly recommends I install Flipboard on my iPhone.
In only two days I learn of so much – bacon maple bars, dog kennels with punny names (Virginia Woof and Noah’s Arf were my favorites), Space Room Lounge, pizzas named after Abel Ferrara films – and if my brief visit on set has been any indication, it looks like season 3 might be Portlandia’s strongest yet.
Season 3 of Portlandia premieres on Friday, January 4th at 10:00PM.