Why you should be watching “Portlandia”

Fred Armisen in "Portlandia" (Scott Green / © IFC / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Tonight -- on Friday, Jan. 4 -- "Portlandia" returns to IFC at 10 p.m. EST. And like the two seasons that preceded it, season three will see a very special guest star: Roseanne Barr, who will take on the role of Portland's mayor.

With guest spots slated for Jan. 25 and Feb. 1 (she fills in for regular mayor Kyle MacLachlan via temp agency after he goes missing), Roseanne will also arguably represent viewers who don't fall into "Portlandia's" target subculture: the outsider.

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"She does things in the most efficient way," show co-creator/star Fred Armisen says. "Because the character didn't grow up in Portland, she doesn't have the same understanding of how things go. She's more like, 'Look, this is a city, so we have to do those things that cities do.' We wanted an outsider to come in and say, 'What is this place?'"

Non-hipsters/hippies/DJs have probably already asked that question when watching "Portlandia," since the series primarily deals with counter-culture. However, despite the insider-y tone of certain sketches (example: a city without bike messengers might not find "bicycle rights!" particularly hilarious), the humour of Armisen and co-creator/star Carrie Brownstein still manages to translate.

And it works so well because they're laughing at themselves. Since Brownstein's a musician, actress, and writer, and Armisen is entrenched in pop culture thanks to performing on "SNL," their material comes from a place of familiarity. However, instead of making it seem exclusive or "us vs. them," they let audiences in. They may be poking fun at bands, performers, bike messengers, bookstore owners, the quirky, and the "hip," but they aren't disrespecting them or alienating them as viewers, since Armisen and Brownstein portray each role, and portray them in non-malicious ways.

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This approach is similar to "SNL" -- likely because Lorne Michaels is "Portlandia's" executive producer. However, instead of paying homage to the current pop culture landscape, "Portlandia" zeroes in on smaller audiences -- the subcultures represented -- who embrace and appreciate the recognition. Meanwhile, those outside of the circle also benefit, since each sketch articulates both the best and worst aspects of each stereotype.

There's a reason "Portlandia" has earned a third season, and why comedians and musicians are eager to guest star. By inviting audiences into this smaller world, they create a community instead of pitting various types of people against each other. True, fans may be laughing at the couple overly worried about free range chickens, but at no time is maliciousness or meanness promoted.

 

Fred ArmisenFred joins Mike in the closet for an intimate 7 minutes.