The second episode succeeded for all the reasons the last one failed; the show capitalized on what differentiates it from every other sketch show – the Portland residents. Not just any run-of-the-mill resident, but as the pilot episode indicated, Portlandia’s Portland is the promised land for the Gen X brand aimlessness seen in films like Clerks and Reality Bites. The sketches in this episode are all over the place, but they share the Portlandia ethos.
In the first sketch, Armisen and Brownstein advertise their business renting out all of their earthly possessions. While Uber and Craigslist trend has recently boomed, the mindset where you have to cobble together pennies from renting out your stove, stems from that earnest directionless-ness so popular during the nineties. By the end, Carrie is mopping someone else’s floor in strange turn of fate and Armisen’s lost track of a kid. At the end of the day, it’s all about trying to keep yourself together.
Similarly, the narrative sketch where four earnest twenty somethings keep protesting an animal testing plant, but just have no idea how to actually make an impact. Each time Armisen, Brownstein, Brandon and guest star Olivia Wilde in their luminescent rave outfits try to get people riled up but all they elicit is laughter. Their pathetic display of unguided passion is funny because they care so much, because if this were some sort of condescending jab it would fall flat. Even Olivia Wilde’s character, who keeps trying to take her shirt off to make a point, doesn’t understand what they’re doing, which let’s be honest we’ve all felt at some point in our lives.
The sketch where Carrie struggles falling asleep plays up the consistent dynamic where Carrie acts as the smart one and Fred is the dope. I suppose this is because Armisen has the range to execute the more challenging comedic parts, but despite how often this tactic is used, the sketch is carried through by strong jokes on Armisen’s inexplicable methods of falling asleep. At the end we find that Brownstein is just as eccentric as Armisen underneath.
As a partial member of their target audience, a snarky college student with an affinity for the nineties, the sketch where Armisen and Brownstein split their apartment 18 ways to get cheap rent resonated with me. In addition to the college students, any average Joe lacking a career in finance or medicine finds it hard to have an apartment that fits more than just doll furniture. The sketch hit on a simple truth and that’s all it needed to do.
While any Gen X-er would insist they know every Jay Z song, it is no secret that hip-hop and rap has been a victim of cultural appropriation by hip, young white people since at least the mid-nineties. A tart sketch where Armisen overcomes his fears of being the whitest guy at a Jay Z concert by getting a 14-hour crash course on hip hop history. Similarl,y the final sketch hyperbolically addresses the sort of feminists that get made at any hint of patriarchy, even when it may not exist, when the owners of Women and Women First do a car wash to raise money.
Few episodes in recent memory have managed to consistently incorporate the skills of the Portlandia writers and actors in sketches that are both funny and in line with the show’s tone. I had a hearty laugh at each sketch, so I’d recommend this episode if you’re interested in starting the show!