After months of breathlessly anticipating the chance to watch Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s comedy series Portlandia, it is suddenly difficult to find a place where people aren’t watching Portlandia. Not only does the show premiere on cable’s Independent Film Channel this Friday, but the first episode is already streaming on Hulu, while Beer and Movie is showing each episode for free Friday nights at the Mission Theater. The only thing more ubiquitous than Portlandia? People volunteering opinions of Portlandia. And why should WW be any different? Movie critic Aaron Mesh is curating the Mission screenings for BAM, so in lieu of a review, he gathered WW’s arts and culture staffers (and grizzled newsman Henry Stern) to watch the first two episodes and give instant reactions.
Aaron Mesh: So what did everybody think?
Kelly Clarke: I don’t know how to feel about it. I mean, it’s funny to us because it’s all Portland places, but I really wonder how it’s going to play to anybody outside of Portland.
Ben Waterhouse: It’s like the best local-access show ever.
Casey Jarman: But are there enough character types to keep poking fun at without it coming off as poking fun at the same kind of people over and over again?
Clarke: I don’t know, I could watch the feminist-bookstore owners over and over again, and I don’t think I’d get tired of them. It’s the exact same thing as SNL—some of the sketches are really funny, and some of them aren’t.
Waterhouse: They’re also far more willing to engage in outright absurdity than SNL is.
Jarman: But even that, there were a couple where I felt they were trying for the Tim and Eric really, really, really uncomfortable humor—when his eyes rolled back in his head in the second skit with the mind-fi, it was a little too over-the-top and Tim and Eric-y to fit. It feels like they’re still finding their tone.
Clarke: One thing I do like about it is the undercurrent of anger. That makes me incredibly happy—the idea that Portlanders are furiously angry underneath their calm demeanors. There’s a lot of fucking angry characters, and they try to be so nice. That’s one of the things they nailed about Portlanders.
Henry Stern: What they nailed is that they’re angry about stupid shit. What was the quote she used? “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” You hear that here all the time.
Waterhouse: Every clip that has been pushed online Portlanders apparently do not find funny and find offensive because we take ourselves too seriously. I think there’s no risk of Portlanders not being outraged by this series.
Clarke: So why do we like it?
Waterhouse: Because we’re not self-serious assholes?
Mesh: We so are self-serious assholes.
Clarke: Every single Portlander I know doesn’t think they’re a self-serious asshole. That’s why we’re assholes.
Waterhouse: Portland is a national punch line. If you listen to NPR, Portland jokes crop up a lot. So that idea of the city that they’re lampooning has become widespread enough that the 10 million listeners of NPR will get it. If some small fraction of that NPR audience watches the show, then they’ll have a hit.
Clarke: I feel like what’s going to happen with Portlandia is what’s already happened with it: “Dream of the ’90s” was big for a couple days. It’s exactly the way SNL is big now. Nobody watches SNL at night or watches the entire episode; they watch a skit. And then you forward it to your friends and put it on Facebook. And I feel like Portlandia definitely has the potential to have that kind of viral quality. But I don’t think people are going to need to see it from beginning to end.
SEE IT FROM BEGINNING TO END: Portlandia premieres at 9 pm Friday, Jan. 21, on IFC. The first episode is streaming on Hulu. All six episodes are presented by Beer and Movie for free at the Mission Theater at 8:30 pm Fridays, with live bands. (The Morals play at the premiere episode Friday, Jan. 21.)