Is there anyone on television more ahead of the curve than Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein?
When we woke up from the dream of the 90s, they told us to dream a little harder and soon we found ourselves in the magical world of the 1890s. When we got complacent with our sense of fashion, they dared us to put a bird on it. When we got thirsty, well, we didn’t drink their milk because we’d get really sick.
Their hit IFC series, Portlandia, is one of television’s most underrated shows because the jokes and set pieces can be so bizarre that the dialogue almost becomes another language, like the script was sent from another planet. Fans drank up that formula, coming back each week expecting to see ideas that no one else on television could do. As Portlandia enters season five without a contract in place to continue the show beyond these 10 episodes, they once again did what no one else would do. They ripped up the scripts that made the show a cult success and demanded a god damn buffett.
With “The Story of Toni and Candace,” Armisen and Brownstein double down on the season four finale, “Getting Away,” which followed a similar format. There, multiple sets of characters came along for a weekend adventure in Beaverton. Here, Toni (Brownstein) and Candace (Armisen) are isolated, and Portlandia focuses on a single set of characters throughout an episode for the first time.
While we know Toni and Candace have been “worshiping the beaver for decades,” we’ve all been wondering what made them this way. Why do they shun the advances of men? Where did they come up with the choreography for the Trail Blazers cheerleaders? How can they afford to only open their store for a few hours a day?
The answers are in the form of a half-hour mini-movie set in 1991. I’m talking bad hairdos, excessive spending on posh cars and cocaine and ass grabbing. Tons of ass grabbing. Let me backtrack, it all starts with a gentle, older reporter entering the bookstore in the present day to write a blurb on local businesses. Toni and Candace run with it, turning 50 words into a tell-all on sexism, big business, fast cars, faster women and how the two feminists met.
Back in 1991, Toni and Candace were successful businesswomen on a collision course, the polar opposites of the feminist caricatures they are today. Candace in particular was sleeping her way to the top, bottom, side and every position in between, while “Toni the Poni” was making a name for herself at the expense of letting men take (squeeze) advantage of her. When their companies merge, a typical 90s big-shot boss (and sexist villain), played brilliantly by guest star Peter Giles, makes the two ladies battle for a coveted position and a cat fight ensues.
What follows is some of the smoothest, cleverest work Portlandia has ever done. It’s a shame this wasn’t fleshed out into an hour-long special or a movie. I’d pay $10.75 to see it. For a show predicated on fragmented, shortform experimental humor, basing an entire episode on one set of characters marks its biggest deviation from the norm. As with so many other risks they’ve taken over the previous four seasons, it paid off — “The Story of Toni and Candace” will go down as one of the series’ shining achievements in my eyes.
If the season five premiere did the same for you, there’s a lot to look forward to with nine episodes left in the season. Brownstein told The Seattle Times that all the episodes but two revolve around one inciting incident.
IFC would be crazy not to renew the show for another five seasons if we get seven more episodes like this one.
Characters of the Week:
Who else but Wiz Kid “Toni the Poni” and Candace “I was a Wiz Woman. When I went to the bathroom it was loud.”
“I’ve got two air bags with your names on them.”
“We want a god damn buffet”
“It’s women and women, first.”
Underrated Skit of the Week:
Brownstein’s comments indicate we’ll see far less skits this year, so we might have to retire this one.
In an interview with TIME, she spoke on why they chose to take the show in a new direction:
We set out to make each season different from the last, but when you are staring down the fifth season of a show and there are so many different, wonderful sketch shows on television — whether it’s Key & Peele or Amy Schumer or Kroll Show — there’s just an awareness that it’s a very strong medium right now. We’re fortunate that we have the freedom with IFC that we can be very elastic with the form. I feel like sketches is covered right now. We just wanted to keep pushing ourselves. It’s a challenge from the time we write to the time we film. It changes the whole nature of production and performance, but I think it was a challenge that shaped the whole season, and I think we’re really happy with how it turned out.
They put a bird on the painting in Bruce Nathanson’s office.
Den of Geek Editor Chris Longo is the conductor of the Twitter follow train. Hop on here as he tweets about his favorite Portland band, Shortstop Sleepover.