My first introduction to IFC's quirky show Portlandia actually occurred in Portland, Oregon, where the show takes place. I was visiting my cousin and she told me that I "just had" to check out this new show about her hometown. She showed me the teaser music video "Dream of the 90s," and I thought it was clever enough. The week I spent in Portland, however, was what really sealed the deal for me about this show. My cousin and I were driving around looking to get some coffee and thought we found a drive-through, but then my cousin shook her head no. "Oh, no, that's a bike-through-only coffee place."
Bike-through-only coffee places exist in Portland!
Portlandia, the show that beautifully mocks the place where "young people go to retire," returns Friday night for its third season. The show, which stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, is a sketch comedy that finds the pair in some very Portland-centric scenarios. Additionally, the two play a version of themselves dealing with the absurdities of Portland life. Sketches have featured feminist bookstore owners, overly concerned locavores, biker's rights advocates, mediation and anything that might touch on the 21st Century hipster lifestyle.
The third season will feature some new guest stars such as hipster-mainstay Chloë Sevigny as Fred and Carrie's new roommate, as well as old favorites like Kyle MacLachlin as Portland's mayor.
I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call with Armisen and Brownstein recently and they spoke about the show, what's behind them and what is to come.
One of the biggest hurdles to the show is trying to outdo what they have already done. Armisen mentions that a lot of the challenge is "trying to do more things that are a little bit beyond the surface of what we've been doing already. Not just repeating ourselves, but finding a new angle, trying to make it seem fresh and new to ourselves."
Additionally, trying to move these sketch characters into more than just flat personalities has been something that the duo aim to accomplish in the upcoming season. Making the characters "more multidimensional" and "figuring out who they are and how to write for them is a challenge" as well, according to Brownstein.
The addition of Sevigny as Fred and Carrie's new roommate is an attempt to shake up the team, who the actors fear may become too boring.
"We just wanted it to, like the characters of Fred and Carrie, we didn't want it to be the same thing where they're just doing tasks for the mayor. So we thought, let's put another person in with them, who is close enough that it can actually have an effect on their friendship in some way. So that's kind of the idea behind that. It wasn't just that we wanted to have a roommate. We just thought like that would be something that we can get to know the Fred and Carrie characters a little better," Armisen says.
Another challenge the show faces is where to draw the line. Not everyone is familiar with how ironic it is to "put birds on things and call them art," so how does the show know when enough is enough? Brownstein acknowledges that not trying to isolate their audience is an active thought, but perhaps the eccentricities of the show are what gets the fans coming back.
"We do try to get a little esoteric without being alienating, and it seems like it's working in terms of the specificity is actually what's kind of drawing people to the show," Brownstein says.
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Hipster-dom is like a contagion, spreading from city to city across the country. So why not take the show to another overly pierced town? Armisen and Brownstein agree that Portland is just one of many cities that could have been chosen for the show, but they felt that Portland had something special to it. They have debated taking the show elsewhere, but fear it will be confusing to the audience. Some ideas have come about, and they weren't your typical Austin or Silver Lake. Rather, Armisen says, if they were to go to another city, they would go somewhere not so obvious like Pittsburgh, Detroit or Milwaukee.
"Minneapolis, for some reason might be fun," says Armisen.
But thinking back to my visit to Portland, I have to say that the two have struck gold. Not only does Portland have bike-through coffee shops, they also have video rental stores that people actually rent videos from, and some are actually videos, like VHS tapes. They should make a sketch about that.
Portlandia Season Three kicks off Friday, January 4, at 9 p.m. on IFC.