Based on a series of online vignettes done under the name Thunderant, Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen and former Sleater Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein have taken their show to the mainstream on IFC with Portlandia. It's sketch comedy that crosses the slacker parody of HBO's Mr Show with the non-sequiturs of Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and the rapid-fire wit of Arrested Development.
Portlandia naturally revolves around Portland, Oregon, a city presented as the American depository for the outdated ideals of '90s counterculture. The characters that inhabit this world include a sanctimonious bike messenger, the proprietors of a feminine-focused bookstore and various other caricatured portrayals of the pierced and tattooed, soon-to-be-yuppie masses.
This hipster parody is often extreme. One sketch follows a health-minded couple squabbling with their server about the full extent of their chicken's organic background, going so far as to drive several miles to check out the farm it grew up on before eating. Another shows a social info war unfolding at a coffee shop: neither combatant has ever read a periodical that the other hasn't. A new magazine is dropped on the table and they literally start devouring culture, ripping and gnawing at the glossy paper, running through moving traffic to grab a dangling phonebook across the street.
As someone currently reading an alt-weekly newspaper, you may find the content of this show reflective of your own life pursuits. For instance, take the now-viral “Put A Bird On It” sketch. It features Armisen and Brownstein as the employees of a Nokomis-esque boutique hocking wares that feature screen printed birds on them yet cowering in the presence of a real-life bird gone rogue in their shop. This seems to be the conceit of Portlandia: lampooning the extremism of do-it-yourself culture but admitting its relevance by mentioning it to a mainstream viewing audience.
This also seems indicative of the commoditization of the hipster subculture. Just as Urban Outfitters usurps the disorganized ranks of the various outposts of DIY commerce and repackages them for people without the time or concern for personalized tastemaking, Portlandia is an exercise in parodying sub-mainstream norms for people who get it as well as those who eventually want to be let in on the joke.
While Mr Show hinted at jabbing the '90s indie lifestyle in subversive ways, Portlandia builds upon this foundation by utilizing and expanding upon the online culture their comedy originally sprung forth from. The only hope of television is to catch up with the Internet and this show is an example of commenting on a new medium in hopes of preserving and advancing an old one. The Thunderant duo have created a mainstream gateway between online comedy, YouTube culture and the hipster lifestyle to great effect with IFC's Portlandia. V