We’re taking a triple dose of Portlandia this week, as it is time to bid farewell to season 3 of IFC’s cult phenomena. The culture of the city of Portland or lack thereof, is the basis for episode 9, “Alexandra.” The opening skit is something out of the Twilight Zone as artists bring their abstract artwork to the streets, leading Fred and Carrie to question what is and isn’t creative expression. An abundance of stray artwork is about as cultural is Portland gets, but the recurring skit of “Alexandra” introduces the contrary, a cultural tease. We all have the friend who fails to pick up on pop culture references, forgets to recycle and tends to have a blonde moment on occasion. Fred and Carrie have Alexandra, their perky roommate to marvel at her actions that make her a cultural tease.
For three seasons we’ve waited for Fred and Carrie to have a love interest and to our surprise they are not suddenly falling for each other. Instead, they are all red in the cheeks for Alexandra, despite pointing out her cultural flaws early in the episode. We couldn’t ask for anything more from their love triangle. Alexandra was brought in this season to add another dimension for Fred and Carrie, who are tied at the hip to the Mayor. The competition to win Alexandra’s heart has Fred and Carrie shrouded in jealousy, but thankfully they are too good of friends to let a woman split them apart, at least for now. The final scene of the episode is shot in French New Wave format complete with Fred Amisen’s fake French babble and a rousing trip to a park to celebrate Bastille Day because there is really no other way to commemorate the July 14 holiday than with your lovers.
Portlandia has excelled at providing a social commentary on awkward situations, whether it is through Fred Armisen’s subtle voice cracks and facial expressions or the wacky scenarios that the show’s characters find themselves in. Awkward roommate situations run rampant over the final three episodes of Portlandia and that isn’t limited to the human race. In “No-Fo-O-Fo-Bridge” the rats make their return to Portlandia as they search for a neighborhood that could yield better sustenance. Portland’s revitalization has been well documented, but that spells trouble for the city’s rodents. When it became the trendy thing to recycle, eat artisan meals and avoid littering like the plague the Rats, voiced by Fred and Carrie, search for a better life while their insecure roommate feels left out.
Rarely in Portlandia do skits have multi-episode arcs, but the love triangle needed to be resolved. Alexandra decides to split with Carrie and does so in an uncomfortable fashion in a communal dining restaurant. Breaking up isn’t easy, especially when you are at a crowded table with strangers. The love triangle wasn’t something we wanted to end but Alexandra is the kind of woman who is unsure of herself and that translates into erratic dating behavior. When Fred emerges as the winner of Alexandra’s dating game, Carrie doesn’t take it lightly.
The difference between the animal world and human world is noticeable. The rats not only settle on a place to live, but also bring their insecure, furry friend along for the ride. Roommate troubles aren’t so easy to manage for humans. Carrie understandably decides to move out because living with an ex is a tough thing to stomach.
The three episode love arc sorts itself out in Portlandia’s season finale “Blackout.” Season 3 has been about building a tangible community in Portland by developing some characters that might have been auxiliary in earlier seasons. “Blackout” once again brings the city together and gives Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein the chance to show that their chemistry on screen together, no matter the characters or situation, is electric.
From the first episode of the series we see Fred and Carrie as the vocal point for the whackiness of Portlandia. Even when woman trouble split the duo apart, they find themselves doing what is in the best interest of the city. The cinematic style of the episode gives an eerie feel when Portland’s power is shut off because the Mayor’s office remains vacant. They know the only person capable of bringing the city out of darkness is the Mayor, who now currently resides in tribal community on the outskirts of town.
It’s the little things that make Portlandia a show we come back to every week. In one of the best cameos of the season, SNL veteran Bill Hader is Birdman, an Australian guest at Peter and Nancy’s bed and breakfast. After the lights go out, Birdman leads the B&B guests into the woods where survival is the only thing that matters. Beyond the memorable cameos (thanks Norm), this season has been a game of trial and error, with plenty of memorable skits scattered amongst those we deem forgettable. In the end, Portlandia looks to its strongest recurring characters, the feminists, to restore the city’s power supply and bring the city back to life.
Finally Alexandra moves on, allowing Fred and Carrie to make amends, albeit in slow motion. With the duo’s friendship reestablished and the lights back on, Portlandia is ready to take a long break to gear up for the next run.
A Bill Hader quote:
“Oh Birdman, what have you gotten yourself into!”
Best of the Rest:
Carrie and Alexandra’s fling runs its course just as the Portland Milk Advisory Board skit is starting to lose some steam. It gave us a reason to sit through some of the commercials (for those who still watch TV live). But in recent weeks the repetitive nature of the coming up with new grotesques milk wasn’t quenching anyone’s thirst. In “No-Fo-O-Fo-Bridge” there is another milk ad but right when we think Portlandia misses the mark, we get a law ad from Larry E., claiming that reckless public service announcements advising people what milk to drink are harmful and victims can seek financial compensation.