Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Portlandia: “Brunch Village”

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Following in the not-so-grand tradition of sketch comedy movies and movies based on sketches, Portlandia's season finale trucks in cinematic visuals, sound, and scope without to-scale laughs. Instead, we're treated to loads of guests and a bookending of the series thus far: Where the pilot centered around Peter and Nance and their endless hemming and hawing over the fate of Collin the chicken, "Brunch Village" retells the monomyth of "a hero (Peter) venturing out of the world of common day (a brunch line) into a region of supernatural wonder (nü-metal thugs and low-end pastries). Fabulous forces are there encountered (a steampunk Tim Robbins), a decisive victory is won (Peter overcomes his indecisiveness), the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons (pancakes) on his fellow man (wife).

When I type it all out like that it actually sounds pretty good. And using Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces as a blueprint, and making Peter's decisive victory literally a 'decisive' victory is a clever joke. The only problem with clever jokes is when they elicit that "ah yes, well done" reaction instead of endorphin-gushing laughter. Of course, in the best gags you get both

So, all that to say season finale "Brunch Village" goes big, but it's more admirable than enjoyable. But if you thrilled at the surreality of watching Fred and Carrie (as the Smooth Moovers) walk by 'Fred' and 'Carrie' in last week's episode, well then the profusion of Freds and Carries all standing in the same brunch line might just spin your top.

The brunch line in question leads to "The Fisherman's Porch," a breakfast hotspot mentioned in previous episodes but only realized in all its trendy glory now. Fittingly for this episode, the Marion Berry pancakes served there are the stuff of legend. When Mayor Kyle MacLachlan invites our heroes to a 9am repast (which is leaning pretty heavily on the 'br' in the 'brunch' portmanteau, Mister Mayor) they must heed his call. There are a couple rewarding gags here, from our Bert and Ernie surrogates getting the Bert and Ernie sleeping arrangement, to The Mayor biked and helmeted while still in his office.

Peter and Nance, forever questing after spontaneity, forgo the mandolin festival for a walk on the wild side: eggs Benedict at The Fisherman's Porch and coffee to go. Old habits are being smashed to smithereens, and the first one to be broken is that Washed Out-scored intro. Here it's replaced by appropriately cinematic titles, but if you're feeling "Feel It All Around" withdrawal, don't worry—you'll get your dose during the closing credits.

As Fred, Carrie, Peter and Nance join the ever-lengthening brunch line, a scuzzy drum circle and outdoor DJ form up around the "sacred storefront" of Women And Women First. Ever since it was revealed that Candace is an unrepentant firebug, I'm disappointed any time she doesn't have a gas tank in her hands. Even before she starts dousing the congregators, she gets off a few choice threats. "I will jump from head to head into the river that is the street" and "I'm going to take a sip of tea but spit a little bit of it into every one of your mouths." If she's not indiscriminately torching things, I want Candace to be shouting incredibly involved rage-plans at the top of her lungs. She goes on, "Oh it'll burn me, but it'll burn you twice. Burn me once with tea, shame on me. Burn you twice in your own mouth, shame on everybody… involved!" It's a measure of a good threat, I think, if it either A) sounds like it would get you a 1up in Mario, or B) it feels like it's over three or four times before it actually is.

While the mayor rushes by bike, then kayak, to make his breakfast date, a tragically unhip Ed Begley Jr. entreats Fred and Carrie with promises of a "cup of joe, side of dough" in his diner. It's sad enough before he goes all Hans Moleman on them and tries to appeal to these hungry hipsters with the kind of patter he thinks they want to hear. The real drama is happening at the end of the line, though, where Nance is carted off to a dystopic brunch hell for line-skipping. Pretty soon she's trying to explain herself "in a silent voice, using words" to a vagabond king Tim Robbins and his hooting lackey, The Sex Pistols' Steve Jones. In what's probably the episode's best scene, the pair torture Nance with a Pop-Tart, which is loaded with preservatives and was probably "mixed together in some kind of chemical stew." "This is really going to give me a stomach ache," Nance white whines, before a newly decisive Peter bounds heroically into view.

The climax is suitably anti-climactic as heroes and villains say their polite goodbyes ("It was really great meeting you guys!") Like everything else in this episode, the whole exchange rarely rises above 'amusing.' At least last season's finale had the artisan bulb makers, but "Brunch Village," for all its novelty, still feels like one of this season's worst efforts. At least we're treated to some rare Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein tonsil hockey once Nance and Peter finally get their table. I'll admit, this episode elicited some tiny, almost sub-threshold pangs of emotion inside my charcoal briquette of a heart, so it has that over on the rest of the season. But I guess novel emotions and that novel single-story structure aren't what I want out of this show. So maybe I'm one of those Philistines who doesn't like books or interesting films and doesn't want his show to do things that it didn't do before. If that's the case, it's only because I love the small-screen Fred and Carrie so much, unfettered by big plots or big guests. This is a show that's partly about the joys of minutiae, and for my money, it's at its funniest and most charming when it stays minute.