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TV Diary | Portlandia: “Mixology”

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TV Diary | Portlandia – Episode 2.01 – “Mixology” – Original Airdate: 1/6/12

Episode Grade: A-

Admittedly, this is a review of an episode that’s a month and a half old. I don’t care. One of the great things about sketch comedy is that you can just let episodes of those types of shows pile up on the DVR and get around to them when you don’t want something as a heavy as a drama or even a sitcom with an ongoing storyline. Perfect for the ADD era, sketch comedy allows you to focus your attention on a funny (or sometimes not-so-funny) idea for a couple of minutes before moving on to the next one. I’d been aware of Portlandia’s existence when it aired in 2010 but didn’t watch for whatever reason. Might have been that I was in the middle of being annoyed by Fred Armisen or something stupid like that. In any event, I ended up catching up on the first season via Netflix Instant in late December/early January and wanted to punch myself for not jumping on board with it earlier. One man’s opinion: This might be the best sketch comedy show currently airing on TV. What Armisen and his partner [1] Carrie Brownstein are doing on a network, IFC, that most people probably don’t even realize they have is something close to genius. Skewering the white ultra-liberal culture [2] of Portland is spot on and has proven to be fertile ground for their brand of absurdist comedy. Just as many comedians truly on top of their game – or, to use a sports metaphor, a volume scorer – they’re content to try new things and rebound quickly from their misses, picking themselves back up and learning from their mistakes to try again. Watching Portlandia’s second-season premiere, “Mixology,” is to see a show that’s taken the strengths from its first season, honed them in even tighter fashion, while simultaneously minimizing the mistakes that plagued particularly the last two or three episodes of its debut year. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at “Mixology’s’” hits and misses:

Hits
*After developing a cult profile in its first season, it’s probably not overstating things to say that Portlandia’s second season will probably attract even more talented guest stars than the first season did [3], and that’s apparent by the central appearance of SNL’s Andy Samberg [4] as a bartender who Carrie falls in love with after realizing that Samberg was an old camp crush. Serving as the episode’s wraparound story, after Samberg uses his mixing skills to create a special drink for her [5], Fred convinces Carrie that Samberg is in love with her and that since he “mixed you a drink, you have to mix him a tape.” This later sends Fred and Carrie to sunny LA when Samberg’s character quits his job at the Portland bar to move to a new one in SoCal, giving Armisen and Brownstein some nice material to play while commenting on the differences between LA and Portland. It also leads into the episode’s best sketch – and possibly the best one that the show’s done yet in…
*”Around The World In 80 Plates.” So, so much goodness here I don’t even know where to begin. Just as “We Can Pickle That” – more on that in a bit – was a reprisal of a popular season one sketch, “80 Plates” was a variation on a sketch from last season’s “Mayor Is Missing,” where stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani played an overly-aggressive cell phone salesman. This time, Nanjiani is an overly-aggressive waiter at a ridiculous TGI Fridays-inspired restaurant chain and “80 Plates” is like the cell phone sketch only tweaked and amped up even higher. After arriving in LA and attempting to walk to find Samberg, a starving Fred and Carrie duck into a nearby restaurant for some food only to be passively-aggressively accosted by Nanjiani’s pushy waiter who, thanks to the restaurant’s over-the-top business model, offers them one ridiculous meal option after another [6]. The improv’d feel of the sketch is incredible and the interplay between Nanjiani’s smug waiter and Armisen’s slow burn of annoyance is brilliance. All things considered, this may have been my favorite sketch that Portlandia has ever done.
*Armisen and Brownstein kicked off the episode by bringing back Bryce and Lisa from last season’s beloved “Put A Bird On It Sketch,” this time focusing on their love of pickling things and calling it “We Can Pickle That.” While not quite as strong as the seminal “Bird,” it still was a unique twist on the original sketch and the variety of things being pickled – eggs, fish, band aids, ice cream cones, parking tickets, unused CD jewel cases – was good for a few chuckles.
*One of the major themes of “Mixology” was returning to familiar characters, evident also by the “Dave And Cath” sketch, two characters first seen in last year’s “A Song For Portland.” Here, the overreacting couple tries to enjoy a leisurely day on the river only to have their uptight nature betray them. Of course, they’ve overpacked for a day trip rafting on the river and watching Cath freak out at a young gentleman floating by slowly on a raft – “Is that a keg?! Do you have a license for that? What’s your blood alcohol level right now?” – is amusing. The sketch takes a little while to get going but the ending is a kick – after being separated [7], Dave writes Cath a letter, sends it downstream in a bottle and then yells, “GRAB THE BOTTLE!” at her. The ending alone is enough to put this one in the “Hit” column.

Misses
*While “Mixology’s” “Women And Women First” bookstore sketch wasn’t all bad – this time focusing on a cluelessly chauvinistic air-conditioning repairman – too much of it fell flat. One of the best parts of these sketches in season one is that the Toni and Candice characters were opposite some strong guest stars – Steve Buscemi, Aubrey Plaza, Heather Graham – but there isn’t one here for them to bounce their stridency off of. Still, any sketch that has Toni berate the repairman for pointing at her by saying, “I feel a penis here, I feel a penis here, I feel a penis here… I’m halfway to pregnant,” can’t be entirely trashed.
*The only complete misfire was the “Surfrider Foundation” sketch. Just didn’t think that there was anything worthwhile in the over-the-topness of this sketch which saw a young man going door-to-door attempting to collect signatures for a cause while his overprotective parents (and later, overprotective grandparents as well) attempted to glean constructive criticism from, and then outright bully, the homeowner into signing on against her will. Coincidentally, this was the lone sketch of the episode that had Armisen and Brownstein playing entirely new characters. It just didn’t have many laughs to offer but it was the lone complete miss in this episode, which makes for a very strong season opener.

[1] And fucking kickass musician. Seriously. You should already be familiar with Sleater-Kinney but if you’re not, watch this. Wild Flag is also pretty damned good.
[2] You always make fun of the ones you love.
[3] Though Jason Sudeikis, Steve Buscemi, Aubrey Plaza, Aimee Mann, and Kyle McLachlan are nothing to sneeze at.
[4] I’d expect even more SNL castmembers to make appearances as the season progresses.
[5] One that is a ginger-based bourbon drink infused with honey, lemon, charred ice and also includes a cherry tomato, lime zest, homemade bitters, egg whites, egg shell, egg yellows, and rotten bananas. When asked by Fred if the rotten banana adds to the drink’s flavor Samberg replies, “Secret of the pros. Also, we’re just trying to get rid of it.”
[6] These include Lobster-ating your meal (they put a full lobster on top of your meal for an extra $31.99), Breakfast-izing your meal (everything wrapped up inside an omelet), or doubling-down on your meal (double the food for double the price – but NOT like ordering two meals).
[7] By roughly fifty feet.

Miscellany:
*Awkward forced-polite guy conversation between Armisen and Samberg in the bartender storyline was nicely played by both.
*Cheese Boats, Duck Triangles, Crispy Cheese, Buffalo Bombers, Potato Tornadoes, Deep Fried Salad, Beef Dingers. Just a few of the appetizer selections at Around The World In 80 Plates.
*”Pickles always cost a nickel.”
*”Pickle juice tastes like garbage. It suuuucks.”
*”Ayyyyoo river!”
*”Why would someone move out of Portland?”
*”Argh… my lilywhite skin!”
*”What is that?” “It’s the sun.” “Why isn’t it covered by clouds?”
*”We don’t have cheeseburgers. We do have Slamburgers.”
*”Would you guys like to double down on your meal?” “I don’t know that saying.”
*”What do you do if someone shares?” “There are cameras everywhere.” “That’s not… fun.”
*”Do you want to Lobster-ate your meal?” “What is that?” “We just put a whole lobster on top of your meal.” “I doubt you do that.” “It’s an extra $31.99.” “I doubt that’s even in existence.”
*”Oh, those are tight. The Cheese Boats are dope.”
*”I’m gonna enjoy watching you eat this.”
*”Sorry, guys. Totes my bad.”
*”Sir, you do have a feminine side, don’t you?” “Well… I have always liked gals.”
*As long as there are no availability issues, I’m going to try to post what I think is each episode’s best sketch with these reviews. Please enjoy “Around The World In 80 Plates” via YouTube below.

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