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Fred bites off more than he can chew as Portlandia takes on startup culture

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For the second straight episode, Portlandia focuses on Fred getting carried away with an idea and making a fool of himself in the process. While last time it was his quest to take down the hunks of the world once and for all (until he found out he was one of them), tonight he decides to start his own cellphone company after hearing his friends complain about all the problems with their own service providers. It’s not hard to guess where this heads; Fred has no idea what he’s doing, and the whole thing blows up in his face spectacularly. Still, it’s certainly entertaining to watch him get there.


Fred believes his company will be able to provide the best service because he’ll only have 10 customers, made up of his close friends. Everybody has a number between one and nine, and his is 10. It doesn’t take long for this idea to encounter problems, as Fred is unable to offer basic services like internet access and texting. What particularly stands out, however, is how Fred’s motives become more and more corrupt. At first, he earnestly tries to make his plan work and can even seem sympathetic when things begin to go wrong. However, as each segment progresses, we watch him become increasingly lazy and apathetic, and even deliberately swindling his customers. One could argue that his fall mimics how the actual phone companies have operated, but in his case, he never expands beyond his 10-customer base and is never able to operate effectively in any way.

The final segment sees him taken down by a “gotcha!” journalist who exposes him, but while its initially satisfying to see him get his comeuppance, we find out that he buys off his company to a major conglomerate, getting rich in the process and absolving himself of any responsibility for the issues his customers endured. This is a pointed look at startup culture, not unlike the one South Park took back in 2014. Fred does everything wrong and fails upwards; anyone frustrated by the way Silicon Valley tends to reward the most empty ideas would be nodding in agreement here.


Elsewhere, our unlucky online dater Sam is back in this week’s cold opening. After his therapist advised him to try a one-night stand in last week’s episode, tonight, he’s stuck in a long-distance relationship with a married woman. They try unsuccessfully to make plans for the holidays, and he suggests breaking things off entirely. Unfortunately, Kate, his would-be companion fails to hear any of this (or at least pretends she didn’t hear it), and rather than repeat himself, he resigns to his unsatisfying situation. It’ll be interesting to see if his struggles in this forum continue on a week-to-week basis. I hope so, if only because online dating can go wrong for so many reasons, and it would be cool to see the show explore all of them.

Also back are last week’s Men’s Rights Activists, who have apparently decided to follow up “What About Men?” by holding a funeral for the gender. What makes this sketch work above all else is the funeral director’s confused reactions to their requests for masculine decorum. As with last week, they seem more clueless than truly malicious, and the sketch’s absurdity is what really carries it. Time will tell if the show will do more with their righteous crusade in the future episodes. For now, this has been one of the funniest takes on the MRA movement this side of Parks And Recreation.

The two best sketches of the night, however, focus on what has always been a Portlandia hallmark: eccentrics. There’s Diego, the world-renowned tip-jar artist, who attempts to create a design for a struggling coffee shop. Pretty much everything he says is hilarious (“In Mexico City, we have lunch all day long.” “I’ve been there. I know that’s not true.”). The sketch mocks the affected pretension of artists, but the character can’t help but be quite likable.

Equally amusing are recurring favorites Lance and Nina, whose marriage is nearly destroyed by a massage chair that Lance is unable to get out of. The absurdity is just brilliant here, as Nina seems to have no idea that Lance is stuck in the chair, and continues to think he just finds it really, really comfortable. Somehow, this goes on for the course of 15 months until she finally rescues him from the chair. Hey, if a marriage can endure that, there’s no reason to think it won’t last forever. Unfortunately, we also have to feel sorry for the poor sap she tells it to.


If one were looking to apply a theme to this episode, it could be obliviousness; sketch after sketch sees people hurting others because they simply misread the situation. We see this in Fred’s mistaken belief that he can provide quality phone service, the MRAs’ belief that they’re the ones being persecuted, Nina’s failure to realize that Lance is trapped in his chair, and of course, Diego thinking that he is the greatest thing to happen to the tip jar. None of these characters seem evil, and yet, all of their actions have entirely negative effects. While this may or may not have been intentional, it was nonetheless a clever way of showing how he can hurt people without realizing it.

Stray Observations

  • “We’re gay for being straight!”
  • “If you gave me a credit card, I wouldn’t know what to do. I would want to put it in the water and kick it around.”
  • So… how does Nina have a baby if Lance has been the chair for over a year? Was he conceived before he got trapped there? Did she manage to have sex with him while he was stuck there?
  • This the third straight episode I’ve given a B to start this season. Feels a bit repetitive, but this show has been consistently solid, though never quite spectacular.