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

Portlandia: “Cops Redesign”

Illustration for article titled Portlandia: “Cops Redesign”

If Wikipedia serves, Portlandia wrapped season two production the exact same weekend that Wall Street got itself occupied, so mid-season mile-marker episode "Cops Redesign" is only unintentionally topical. It's also less enjoyable than it should be, considering it features CGI, the return of mayor Kyle MacLachlan, and a retrofitted Song For Portland that's absolutely lousy with Rollie Fingers-style 'staches.

That's not to say that the episode stinks—it's solid, as most of this season has been—but it feels like the obvious extra effort that went into it yielded more sizzle than steak. It also has the opposite problem of "Cool Wedding" where weak standalone sketches were buoyed up by a strong central plot.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I have to say that I was not a big fan of the original "Dream Of The '90s" tune that opened the series. It was probably necessary, and it set it a tone, etc., but it didn't crack me up. "The Dream of the 1890s," though, I was immediately on board with. The dumb joy of recognizing the parallels between the songs plus the sharper observations and Melanie's line about how "it's like if President McKinley was never assassinated" equal one of the best cold opens the show's done.

And even though dressing like an extra from There Will Be Blood isn't exactly a new trend, it did remind me how well-suited Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are for satirizing cool culture. The show's guest spots testify to how well-connected and clued in they are, and considering the cast started filming season two back in May, I think Portlandia has a darn respectable turnaround time on holding up the mirror to society. But then again, I've never been ahead of the curve, style-wise, so what do I know?

After something called "Trek In The Park" gets interrupted by cops, Fred and Carrie are brought into mayor MacLachlan's office to brainstorm ways to ease tensions between civilians and Portland's finest. Aside from the screwball mayoral meeting, the through-line is the weakest part of this episode. That's especially unfortunate, because when a standalone sketch doesn't work at least there's always the promise of something better around the corner. In "Cops Redesign," what's peeking around the corner is always that ho-hum plot.

Maybe part of my problem is that I prefer when Fred's the straight man, like in "Mixology" and "Baseball." When he and Carrie are on the same page, the straight roles inevitably go to someone less capable. It was a bit of a hoot seeing Annie Clark (AKA St. Vincent) all dolled up as a thoroughly unintimidating keeper of the peace, and the line "Hands up? I don't think so, it's hands down the best" was great, but I think the descriptor here would be 'cute,' not 'funny.'

That cuteness gets compounded by the Fantastic Mr. Fox takeoff set in the zero-packaging grocery. I'll admit, I wasn't aware of this particular prong of the green movement, but educational elements aside, this sketch seemed more an excuse to show off some CGI than a joke that was begging for telling. (I'm assuming this wasn't actually produced through grueling, analog stop-motion animation, but then again, IFC devotes a podcast to the artform here so I wouldn't put it past them.)

The two highlights of "Cops Redesign," and the reasons this episode still nets a 'B' from me are "Shooting Star Preschool" and "Bad Art Good Walls." The first features Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock as a parent with questionable taste in rock, and the second Sean Hayes as a guy with impeccable taste in bad art. For anyone who's enjoyed Scharpling & Wurster's "Kid eBay" routine, where a dire situation quickly devolves into a discussion of rock music minutiae, "Shooting Star" should hit the same sweet spot. Super-parent Brendan derails a PTA meeting with "Sorry to interrupt, but also not sorry to interrupt" before his wife takes over in castigating the school for providing gateways to mediocre pop music like Mike + The Mechanics. Maybe season two's greatest addition so far has been this couple and how they let us watch the worlds of parenting and hipster cred gloriously collide. They're also responsible for my favorite line of the episode: "I'm getting very stressed out that the head of our school does not know about Neu!"

For overall entertainment value, though, nothing beats the bad art sketch, which lets Sean Hayes, Armisen, and Carrie go down the checklist of the most wonderfully hackneyed subjects of coffee shop self-expression, including older black men, instruments shedding music notes, and paintings of forlorn women. (I might add photographs of clocks and discarded baby dolls to that list.) I always imagined that Portland was free from this kind of crap, but I suppose every paradise has its serpent. Is that something people say?

Those bits, coupled with a retread of "Have You Read…?"—only this time with acquaintances instead of articles—round out another smooth-sailing episode in a remarkably even-keeled season. That's about to change with next week's episode though.