“Portlandia,” which airs on IFC on Fridays at 10 p.m., begins by asking a loaded question: “Do you remember the 90s?”
Starring “Saturday Night Live” cast member Fred Armisen and Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein, “Portlandia” explores — and makes fun of — what some would call “hipster nonsense” and what others would call their way of life.
Above all, “Portlandia” is a portrait of Portland, Oregon — not quite a caricature, yet not a photograph, either. Portland is a city known for being “hip,” drawing in coolness in the same way that Times Square attracts clueless tourists.
As Brownstein’s character posits, “It’s like Portland’s almost an alternative universe. It’s like Gore won, the Bush administration never happened.” Indeed, the very first episode of the sketch show features a feminist bookstore, a couple visiting an organic farm, and an adult hide-and-seek league. “Portlandia” is absurd, there is no other way about it.
To the uninitiated, the show is nothing more than a sort of hipster “Seinfeld”. To an extent, this is true, but this shouldn’t undermine what in reality is an incisive — and often hilarious — social commentary.
Whether it is poking fun at yuppies trying to “out-read” each other, or getting hooked on “Battlestar Galatica,” or running out of bags at a grocery store, or our “spoiler alert” culture, the detritus and minutiae of our 21st century dreamscape are magnified so we can all sit back and have a good laugh about it.
The city of Portland, Fred and Carrie are simply the media by which our postmodern culture are presented, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
The show makes efficient use of guest stars and cameos. Kyle MacLachlan of “Twin Peaks” and “Sex in the City” is the mayor.
The actual mayor of Portland is his assistant. Aubrey Plaza and Steve Buscemi make hilarious appearances, as do Aimee Mann, Sarah McLachlan, Jim Gaffigan, Jeff Goldblum and Jack White.
The show is in sketch format, though broken up so as to add pace to the storylines. “Portlandia” is a playful kitten compared to the more formulaic, fat-cat sitcoms that choke our airwaves.
The show is a satire of our society, not a product of it. By holding up a mirror to life as we know it, we can either laugh at it or see our reflection and quickly turn away.