BY SHIN HIEFTJE
Daily Arts Writer
Published January 17, 2011
People living an “alternative lifestyle” — the kind of people who only eat organic food and refuse to shop anywhere but mom-and-pop stores and perhaps live in a co-op. Depending on who you talk to, they could be called hippies or hipsters. Either ways, it’s easy to see that the creators of comedy “Portlandia” have an intimate knowledge of this lifestyle, or they wouldn’t have such a fun time lampooning it.
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“Portlandia” centers around, unsurprisingly, Portland. The city is a hub of sorts for this culture, described in the opening minutes as a place where people still talk about saving the planet and dream of starting their own bands, and where “all the hot girls wear glasses.” The show is basically comprised into a series of vignettes of off-the-wall situations, exaggerating the alternative lifestyle for comedic effect.
In one of the sketches, a couple orders a chicken in a restaurant and proceeds to ask the waitress an inordinate amount of questions about how the chicken was raised.
“Did it have a lot of friends?” one of them asks the waitress. The couple then becomes so invested in how the chicken was raised, they tell the waitress to save their seats as they go to visit the farm where it was raised to see if it really is as organic as the waitress claims.
Another scene has the same couple running a “Women and Women First Bookstore.” They find it very inconsiderate and offensive that a man would use the bathroom without buying something, while they, as clerks, are inconsiderate too by being prissy and condescending. The woman at the register gets offended at the man offering a $20 bill for a small item, saying, “What do you think I work for, tips?” They also offer the man who used the bathroom to take a class on protest organizing instead of buying something, which is pretty on-the-mark satire of the alternative liberal mentality.
It’s not all satire, though; some of it’s just absurd. When the couple gets to the farm to see how organic it is, there happens to be a charming Charles Manson-like character running it, and things naturally get a little bizarre from there. The whole show is just kind of goofy, with unrealistic scenarios and random quirky quips that are hit-or-miss in their humor. Exaggeration becomes par for the course in attempts for parody. The caricatures are over-the-top and the script is silly.
“Portlandia” isn’t especially well acted or directed, but it doesn’t really seem like it’s trying to be. It’s a small show with a singular idea to poke fun at the “alternative lifestyle,” and it does that well. Since it’s a show with multiple sketches, the jokes take a while to develop — there’s only about six or seven major laugh-out-loud moments in each episode. It’s ridiculous and dumb, but if you like parody, “Portlandia” isn’t a bad way to spend 30 minutes.