Marcus and Madeleine Harris – the Sanitation Twins! – are here to tell you, Portland, about all the new and exciting recycling bins! Like many an attempt to ease and simplify, this effort becomes comically complicated, as seemingly everything and anything (broken umbrellas, lotion, fingernails, eggshells, etc.) can be recycled, a bewildering array of colors (periwinkle, fuchsia, rose, canary, chartreuse, cobalt) are required for each particular recycled group, and each individual element of a whole (coffee cup, sleeve, stir stick, and lid – and lids with lipstick are treated differently than lipstick-less lids) must be separated. The humor of “Sanitation Twins” does not let up for a second, as it is not just about the bizarre complications that can arise from good intentions. Fred and Carrie have created thoroughly well-thought out characters in Marcus and Madeleine, as demonstrated by their back-and-forth banter when they go off-script – lack of timing issues such as when they fail to say “We’re twins!” in unison, yeller vs. yellow, Marcus holding onto some old tapes that Madeleine is trying to force him to get rid of, and the discussion about whether or not the fingernails could be Einstein’s. The ending punctuates another joke to the whole affair, sparking the question of, “Isn’t this all so pointless?”, as the recyclables can only become clean air, fresh water, or good vibes, while the other NINETY-SEVEN percent is dumped into the ocean.
Season Analysis: Is hipster culture in Portland too narrow a scope for one show? Well, that was exactly my fear when I first heard about Portlandia, and Season 2 did not alleviate that fear completely. So, while Fred and Carrie may struggle to consistently put together great episodes, they still have plenty of great sketch ideas up their sleeves.
A male-female indie rock duo that dresses like Devo is struggling to break out when they discover success by incorporating their cat in their act and adopt the name “Catnap.” JAYDE from the band “JAYDE speaks sevYn” uses Kickstarter to ask for donations for her next music video (which features, among other things, “the wise man who knows nothing”) while an ad for Catnap’s album pops up. Guest star Miranda July stops by to play the co-owner of a boutique shop with only two shirts in its entire inventory. That band with the cat is kidnapped by an obsessed fan (played by guest star Kristen Wiig) named Gathy. That’s Gathy, not Cathy. Gathy with a “G.” Could there be a more Portlandia-esque episode of Portlandia? Well, that last part is more of a goofy Kristen Wiig-ism, but otherwise, this episode was so hipsteriffic it hurt.
“Did You Read?”
Sharp, enduring sketch comedy can make its viewers uncomfortable, in that they see these ridiculous characters and wonder, “Oh my God, is that me?” Fans of satire are likely well-read (otherwise, how would they come to understand the satire?), so the characters played by Fred and Carrie in “Did You Read?” are probably not too dissimilar from Portlandia fans. With the sheer volume of reading material available in the twenty-first century, the pursuit of discussing that reading material with friends can be a daunting task, and thus we may forgo actual exploration of themes and merely resort to list-making and descend into one-upmanship. But thankfully such a discussion, though shallow, can still be entertaining if a few choice quips are thrown in (“eco-chairs and eco-ways to sit,” “I thought it was cute,” “I did not like the end of it”). Though “Did You Read?” was not the heaviest laugh-inducer, it has among all Portlandia sketches endured most strongly in my mind, as it is the most meaningful (along with “Technology Loop”) to people who care to immerse themselves in all that modern life has to offer. The ending left something to be desired, but that is often enough the case in sketch comedy to be beside the point.
Most of the Portlandia episodes from Season 1 featured a storyline running throughout each episode in the midst of the self-contained sketches. “Mayor is Missing” stood out for its through line, as it had a greater span than “A Song for Portland” and “Aimee” and was less esoteric and confusing than “Blunderbuss.” The “Baseball” storyline may have actually been tops for the years, but “Mayor is Missing” won the overall episode battle thanks to its stand-alone sketches. (“Did You Read?” was a better opener than the unemployment PSA; the house-sitting sketch with the “Put a Bird on It” couple was a more hilarious visit from recurring characters than the Feminist Bookstore journal class.) But the clinching moment for “Mayor is Missing” and Portlandia as a whole in its inaugural season came with the cell phone store sketch. I was willing to check out Portlandia thanks to its promise of targeting hipster culture, but I wondered if Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein could make that concept last as a series, especially since they limited themselves to one city. But with the help of Kumail Nanjiani, they showed that they had made the wise decision of not confining themselves into a self-imposed obligation to focus only on hipster skewering. The humor of confused and abused uses of language (“It is one time in that you only pay one time a year”) is a form of humor that Portlandia would be wise to stick to (it is a forte of Fred Armisen), and it seems intent on doing so, which could be the show’s formula for long-term success.
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