The fourth season of “Portlandia,” the brilliant show created by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, is now available on NetFlix, and it’s better than it has ever been – systematically devastating in its portrayal of modern American malaise, pretension, and ego – and funny as shit throughout.
HBO’s amazing “Silicon Valley” notwithstanding, Portlandia might be the best thing on TV. It’s eliminated much of the marginalia – silly throwaway stuff of previous seasons – and instead aims for previously unspeakable honesty that targets hip enclaves like Portland, Madison, and Austin – with skits that traffic harder and more vicious than any satirist I can recall.
Portlandia’s the best thing to happen to comedy since Armisen left SNL – leaving behind his forced, sad impression of Obama (which you could tell he dreaded), to follow his calling – as the leading voice and critic of the modern male. And female.
What an amazing, amazing show. I’m on episode 7 and amazing themes and truths abound.
The very first episode should hook you immediately – when we come upon a house haunted by ghosts who read too much of the New York Times. All they do is haunt the house’s inhabitants with contradictory health advice. They aren’t scary – just interminable in their banality.
What comes up often is the vast space between lifestyle and income. The recurring message: that while it’s great to live a life free of competition and clichéd bosses – what’s not so great is how few options there are left to support yourself…when there is no competition, or are no bosses. Everyone has loads of free time, but fills it with little purpose.
The people they lampoon are accustomed to a comfortable existence, but have no idea how to support the way of life beyond a few weeks.
So they rent themselves out, live in large groups, or just mooch. In one recurring sketch, a free-loading, debt-ridden boyfriend convinces his girlfriend – the dependable saver and savior – to go in on a joint checking account. The bank employee strongly advises against it – sensing he’s a dirtball. But, hopelessly, the dirtbag’s girlfriend gives in, and the first thing he does with her money is buy a hot tub.
In another skit, a couple is shown a large loft, without any idea of actual cost (a typical couple who did their homework would have a rough idea – but not here). After waxing on about all the elaborate, showy changes they’re going to make to the space, they find that the monthly rate is the appropriately-priced 5 grand – but they only planned on paying 250 bucks. So they figure out that to get the place, they’ll need 18 roommates.
This show is not a celebration of capitalism – but an attack on the attack on capitalism. The message: if you’re going to get rid of something, you better have something better to replace it with – or you’re fucked.
So many ideas in Portlandia all return to one theme: the characters are lost without an idea of how to make money, or even be useful. They are mostly pleasant, nonviolent, slightly desperate in their barely concealed sense of victimhood and envy – but most of all, they are suckers to their own nonproductive whims.
And so what you have is a refreshing reversal – tax accountants, cops, cheerleaders are actually, for once – portrayed sympathetically, while hipster bike messengers aren’t.
My god – that’s revolutionary. In one segment, the recurring activist bike messenger dude succumbs to buying his first car (in order to keep his job at a growing company…yes, it was growing – a typical symptom of a disease called profit). And the first thing he does after buying a car? Become an activist for car rights – replacing his old role as an advocate for bicyclist rights. His girlfriend pleads with him: why does everything have to be a war? Why does there always need to be a conflict?
It was beautifully honest.
Perhaps the greatest skit of the season requires summary here – because it works as an indictment on Marxism, the left, and just about everyone who watches MSNBC.
A Portland couple, fearful that they might be purchasing clothes made in sweatshops, decides to hire a seamstress to make their own clothes. Of course, it takes weeks for their in-house worker to make even one simple dress. So they let her hire an assistant…and move both to the basement of their house. In short order, the clothes become popular, and that creates the need to hire more help. The result: these fine young progressives are now running a sweatshop out of their own Portland home…the products sold, ultimately, in Asia, to their ruthless counterparts.
In another skit, lesbian owners of a feminist bookstore go to a Portland Trailblazers game, where they are shocked to find cheerleaders, cheerleading. Confronting the team’s front office over such blatant sexism, the ladies end up reworking the cheerleading routines to reflect patriarchal oppression – and afterward lecture the male athletes about feminism. I am pretty sure the players participating in the skit didn’t even understand what the hell was going on. Because their acting seemed too damn good to be acting. I think the teammates were genuinely flabbergasted.
Portlandia is a rare thing: brutally honest without being mean – true without being vicious. It’s what happens when liberals have the balls to lampoon liberals. God bless Armisen and Brownstein – the only two artists willing to bare their flaws and mock them without fear of retribution. Could it be that the targets have no idea they’re being targeted?
In short – this is brave stuff.
I suppose this is the inevitable result of the pendulum swinging back – that now tradition has become rebellious, after pop culture has spent so much time indulging the edgy. All the typical stuff once perceived as desperately cool now comes off as hilariously trite.
We all saw it coming – it’s finally nice to see it onscreen.
Greg Gutfeld is a mainstay on Fox News as co-host of The Five and the host of Red Eye. He’s also the NY Times best-selling author of Not Cool and The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage. For more from Greg check out his official site or follow him on Twitter.