On Sept. 9, Netflix released “Portlandia’s” seventh season. From skits about Carrie dating a hunk to a satirical short about meninism to an episode about Portland succeeding so that it can attract less people and remain weird, this season of “Portlandia” has proven to have its quintessential quirkiness and thematic consistency while maintaining its hilarity.
As an obsessive viewer and hardcore fan since the beginning, I can attest that this was one of the worst seasons of this wonderful show—and that is painful to admit.
For those of you who have never heard of “Portlandia,” it’s (usually) a very funny sketch comedy show filmed in Portland that mocks hipster lifestyles. Written and performed by comedians Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (who you may know from “Saturday Night Live” and the band Sleater-Kinney, respectively), the show is composed of random sketches interwoven with an ongoing story in each episode. Additionally, a lot of the same characters are featured from season to season. For instance, one of the recurring skits Portlandia is known for is the “Feminist Bookstore,” in which Fred and Carrie portray the utterly hilarious and self-righteous Candace and Toni. These two older women run the Women and Women First bookstore, take themselves very seriously and are incredibly picky about what their customers say and do.
What is endearing about “Portlandia” is that it is random, relatable and also a caricature of itself. Almost all of the skits appeal to this alternative sense of humor, making fun of the ridiculous culture of millennials, DIY bands, vegan food and Portland’s ’90s aesthetic. However, you know it isn’t mean-spirited or targeted because Fred and Carrie are “hipsters” themselves who probably subscribe to these trends. This makes their sense of humor inviting—a lot of young people can relate to the absurdity that comes with contemporary technologies and fads and partake in a lighthearted self-mockery.
Season Seven provided ample hipster ridicule. The first episode’s reoccurring skit centers around the concept of dinner party storytelling. Fred and Carrie are a couple who struggle to tell stories that will impress their other couple friends. With a cameo by Claire Danes, this episode features Fred and Carrie going to a storytelling counselor who aggressively coaches them on how to tell a good story. In the end, Fred and Carrie perform their story at a huge dinner party, making sure to dim the lights and turn on a spotlight. This alerts everyone to their story and includes musical instruments to hype up the experience.
Another episode revisited Candace and Toni’s relationship. Toni is now in a serious relationship and Candace is struggling with the ensuing separation anxiety. The skit features Candace being a drama queen and tracking Toni down in all of her couple exploits, trying to best her new partner. Another episode features Carrie trying to find a new friend after “losing” a close friend to a marriage. She then aggressively seeks out new candidates as if she is trying to find someone to fill a job, taking résumés and networking.
These storylines, while funny and relatable in concept, weren’t as hilarious in practice. They were missing a certain je ne sais quoi—perhaps it had to with the lack of just plain, funny moments. There weren’t many elements of surprise, or witty one-liners. With that said, I do think that in the past the best “Portlandia” sketches were always the singular, short random sketches that had nothing to do with the episode’s theme.
I definitely found this to be the case with the recent season as well. One of my favorite skits was in episode six, when Fred pretends to be an avid B-52s fan and unpacks a box of their albums and merchandise as if it is the coolest thing in the world. At the end of the skit, he unveils a little love shack toy house, and the B-52s, shrunk down to a miniature size, emerge from it. Instead of being psyched to see the actual B-52s, Fred cocks his head in confusion and simply asks them if they are bobbleheads. I thought his excitement about the B-52s merchandise was just so random and funny.
My other favorite skit was in episode seven, when Fred pretended to be a chef of an airport sushi restaurant. After having a terrible airport sushi experience, he sets out to open his own airport sushi restaurant as he makes the joke that there is a huge market for bad food at airports. The whole joke is to make fun of how bad airport food is, making it seem like restaurants actively try to make the food that way.
Overall, I love “Portlandia,” but this season wasn’t the show’s best. Watching it through a critical lense, I also realized how the comedy could be thought of as elitist in some ways. A lot of skits may not be as universally funny because they center around specific insights about particular situations that not everyone commonly experiences. For instance, sketches make fun of the pretentiousness of dinner parties or the ridiculousness around a new, snobby diet. While it does have a niche type of humor that could be perceived as problematic, I would still recommend the show to anyone, especially anyone younger than 30 due to its hipster satire. Check out Seasons One and Two, though, if you want the best “Portlandia” experience.