We're six episodes into the third season of Portlandia, and I have to say things are looking up. For the most part, writers-stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are getting a handle on what works and what doesn't. Not only that, but they're actually daring to develop and grow the myriad couples (wholesome yuppies Peter & Nance, combative lovers Nina & Lance, bookstore owners Candace and Toni, and the civic-minded versions of Fred & Carrie themselves) that inhabit the titular city that so greatly resembles our own. The last two episodes in particular have been fairly inspired, with a deft mix of continuing storylines, short bits of character-driven absurdity, and a welcome decrease in overly long, one-joke sketches that make me want to destroy my TV with a croquet mallet ("Cacao!"). So, in the spirit of awards season, I'd like to present the best and the worst of Season 3 thus far.
Best Sketch: The Battle of the Gentle Bands, Episode 6
It's the tamest showdown ever, as Portland's most passive bands square off to find out who has the least aggressive sound. Of course, it helps if you realize that the second band, Bless The Barn, features Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J Mascis (who's normal stage volume is somewhere between brutal and punishing) and members of the Dirty Projectors. This sketch affectionately tweaks a segment of the Portland music community that seems to take a curious measure of pride in making a delicate, introspective spectacle of themselves.
Best Performance By A Guest Star: Matt Berry, Episode 5
Berry, who plays an idiotic and boorish CEO on the Brit-com The IT Crowd, guests as beloved children's music pop star, Squiggleman, who teaches Fred and Carrie how to win over an audience full of kiddies after their own horrendous noise band, the Defiance of Anthropomorphic Sea Mammals, bombs as the opening act. Chloe Sevigny has been seen as a recurring character named Alex this season, but she's still a bit of a mystery.
Best Performance By a Local
(Tie) Theater veteran and former Rockford Files co-star Gretchen Corbett is a by-the-book Bed & Breakfast inspector who wants to make sure that Peter & Nance's new lodging establishment is sufficiently weird and kitschy (Episode 6). And hirsute man-about-town Jedediah Aaker plays himself (presumably) in Episodes 4 & 5. What can I say? The man's beard has genuine star quality.
Best Storyline: Off The Grid
In Episode 6, the mayor (Kyle MacLachlan) steps down after being branded as an "energy hog" by the Portland Tribune. Three weeks later he's moved to a small farm and transformed himself into a simple goatherd (with a rural accent), while the running of the city is taken over by none other than Roseanne. Really, I can't wait to see what happens next.
Worst Sketch/Worst Treatment of a Guest Star
Mercy me, I thought the Episiode 3 segment with Jeff Goldblum as the chatty proprietor of a doily emporium would never end. Yes, we get it. Portland is home to many, many, eccentric and precious merchants who by all rights shouldn't exist in the real world. It's a good thing I couldn't find my croquet mallet. What do you think? Is Portlandia hitting its stride or jumping the shark?
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