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

Portlandia: “Motorcycle”

Illustration for article titled Portlandia: “Motorcycle”

Like the crafty hobbyists it spoofs, Portlandia excels at taking the barest scrap of a concept and developing the hell out of it. The opening sketch features a gaggle of flower-children chanting the holy name of Tom Bombadil and doing whatever that thing is where everyone lies in a circle with their heads touching. When the party's over, reality intrudes on the fantasy (as it seems to do a lot this season), and Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein spend fruitless minutes scrunching a $10,000 instrument into a hatchback while Joanna Newsom fusses. There are some sharp observations later in the episode, but this sketch is just an excuse for silly harp destruction sounds and punishing donkey kicks, and that's fine by me.

In interviews, Armisen and Brownstein have praised the natural comedic timing of musician-types like Newsom and Isaak Brock, and it's true that they've provided sturdy foils this season. Likewise, the comedy personalities who have appeared have turned in uniformly good performances. But the guests have been so thick on the ground lately that they've been in danger of obscuring the Fred & Carrie chemistry that binds the show together and that originally fueled proto-Portlandia. "Motorcycle" is a return to first principles, taking a break from guest stars (except for the cold open), and it even marks the return of Lance and Nina (the cacao couple), who probably deserve their own webisode spinoff at this point.

Flower Children's Best Moment: "Why are you suing us? What kind of a vibe is that?"

Saggy Ass Sad Girl Shorts

Amazing that we've gone 12 episodes without a single 'thrifting' sketch, especially considering the much less sanitary/socially acceptable/well known practice of dumpster-diving already got its day in the food-spoiling sun. Maybe thrift-store shopping is such a ratty hipster cliche at this point that it's difficult to find a new angle. Whatever the reason, "Saggy Ass Sad Girl Shorts" features my favorite Portlandia dynamic: Brownstein as a straight woman forced to kowtow to Armisen in blithe jerk mode.

Other than Ashby's creepy baby laugh, this sketch—like the Joanna Newsom opener—didn't go anywhere particularly surprising. But there are plenty of good left turns later in the episode, and I think a good execution is all this bare-bones premise really needed.

Best Moment: "Now we're talking… this we're definitely not going to take."

Facebook Rescue

I was wondering if we were going to hear Lance's weird baritone or see Nina's disturbing rictus this season. They were on the short list for my favorite characters last year and I'm glad to see their relationship has weathered the safe-word storm and is now ready to be made "Facebook Official." There's a lot to like about this sketch, from Nina filling in Lance's philosophy of "When life presents obstacles, I skip over them and jump as high as I can, for it is when we jump that we can see the rays of the sunshine." to Lance's completely gratuitous fart. The ending drags, but it's worth it to spend more time with these two.

Best Moment: Make a man BLUSH.

Boyfriend Sitter

Not only does "Motorcycle" get my vote for best episode of Portlandia so far this season, but it's also an episode pretty dense with cultural commentary, and not just for the alternative set either. Uncomfortable truths abound, from the wrap-around plot that delineates different strata of cool—and the difficulty of holding onto that ineffable quality as you age—to this sketch, with its infantilized boyfriend. There's a compelling argument laid out in Hanna Rosin's Atlantic article "The End Of Men," and lots of shows are wrestling with the iea of dudes who can't find their place, but I especially like Portlandia's take. Even before Doug's Battlestar Galactica binge in "One Moore Episode," he obviously wasn't bringing home the bacon, but now his girlfriend's back in the power suit, and he's been reduced to whining to his sitter that "I should be able to play what I wanna play." It's a downer of a sketch, but it goes down smooth, what with the sitcom music moving it along and the full arc (and tattoos) of "Bad Tattoo." Sure, it's a good sketch, but it also a little painful to watch for those of us still trapped in that liminal space between college student and responsible adult.

Best Moment: When Doug runs up the stairs on his hands and knees, like any good six-year-old.


Up All Night, Patton Oswalt and others have lamented the irreversible and near-immediate slide into uncoolness that occurs after you settle down. It must be an especially difficult transition to make when you're surrounded by young taste-makers. In the ultimate display of devil-may-care attitude and youthful vitality, Ehren McGhehey makes out with his girlfriend atop a motorcycle, ignoring sensible driving directions all the while. Peter and Nance look on in anguish, their cred crumbling beneath their feet. "I didn't feel sexy or young." Nance laments.

It's a solid conceit to hang an episode on, and it's more than a little poignant too—at least, before the swingers enter the picture. But if the first two scenes of the sketch are about our inevitable slide into obsolescence, the bit takes an awesomely weird turn when Armisen can't summon up any of the details of 9/11. Childrens Hospital had a good riff on this with Rob Huebel and Nick Offerman, but Portlandia stretches the joke out to incredible lengths, ultimately ending on Peter jogging his memory with some friendly wife-swapping before musing on how expensive CD players used to be.

Best Moment: "How many planes was it? 33?"

I have to hand it to her, Carrie Brownstein really throws herself into the physical comedy this episode: first when she's delivering combos of dives and kicks to Joanna Newsom's harp, and later when she's puttering around on a motor(uni)cycle. Armisen gets some choice lines in too, like when he coos, "I saw a picture of myself sleeping. I loved it." to Nance. I suppose, technically, there actually weren't fewer guests this episode than usual, considering Ehren McGhehey was in there, and Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold appeared as one of the flower children, but Pecknold had zero lines and McGhehey's practically a regular at this point, so I stand by my original point: "Motorcycle" was a great Portlandia episode and it was great because Fred and Carrie were back in the spotlight.