Head back to 'Portlandia'


PORTLAND, Ore. -- In the last season of "Portlandia," the mayor of this sustainability-obsessed city vanished in shame after he was singled out as Portland's "No. 1 electricity hog," Portland went into a blackout, cats barked, creepy music played, and a bizarre Australian who calls himself "Birdman" told guests at a bed and breakfast "there is no civilization."

Carrie and Fred -- about the only characters in "Portlandia" with any grip on reality -- tracked down the mayor at a compound in the wilderness where he was leading a band of savages, a la Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now."

"Do you come as assassins?" asks the muddled mayor, played by Kyle MacLachlan.

It's impossible for Fred and Carrie to get through to him, until they reveal that Seattle -- Portland's archrival for hipness and progressivism -- is about to take over their fair city.

"Under the cover of darkness, they might erect a Space Needle in Portland," says Carrie, rousing the mayor from his stupor and prompting him to return to his office to get the lights turned back on.

And so ended Season Three of "Portlandia."

There is a line from the first season of "Portlandia" that quickly became the show's trademark: "Portland is a city where young people go to retire."

That's not the case for the creators and two stars of the show -- Portlander Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen of "Saturday Night Live" fame. They are always looking for new ways to keep the show from getting stale.

Season Three, which ended this past March, was driven less by short sketches and more by narrative and character development.

The cable channel IFC said Wednesday it's picking up the show for two more seasons. They will premiere early next year and in 2015. Brownstein says the show will continue on the longer-narrative path, with more exploration of the dark side.

It's too early to say what's going to happen after 2015. But that might be the end of the road for "Portlandia."

"I'd like to develop and write other shows, comedy of some sort," the 38-year-old Brownstein said in an interview at a Portland coffee shop.

"Five seasons intuitively feels like the right amount of time for ‘Portlandia' to be around," she said. "I always think people overstay their welcome. It's better to leave people wanting more. But you never know."

If "Portlandia" is a sendup of overzealous progressives and hipsters, it's become hip to watch the show. It's the most-watched series on IFC, whose targeted audience is the age 18-49 range.

Everyone has a favorite episode of "Portlandia," which debuted in January 2011. It might be when a cyclist (Armisen) asserts his rights by hollering, "I'm on a bike. I'm in a bike lane here" and says "Cars, man, why?" It might be the couple in a restaurant who are about to order chicken. They ask whether the chicken is USDA organic, Oregon organic or Portland organic. The waitress brings the chicken's papers and tells the couple it had a name: Colin. The couple visits the farm where Colin was raised to make sure it had been a good home for him.

"Portlandia" fans are able to recite lines like fans of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." People use the TV show as a yardstick to measure quirky events in everyday life: "That's just like a scene out of ‘Portlandia."'

Brownstein said Portland is not "the sole inspiration for the show," but that the city serves as a "signifier for an emotional landscape people are traversing." In "Portlandia," that emotional landscape is largely populated by sanctimonious humans whose obsessive pursuit of a sustainable lifestyle can clash with the desires of others. Somehow, "Portlandia" manages to portray such types with warmth.

Last year, "Portlandia" won a Peabody Award for being "a funhouse mirror reflection of Portland, Oregon, a city that takes its progressivism -- and its diet -- very seriously."

As Brownstein continues to evolve along whatever creative paths she decides to follow, she will be cheered by the legions of fans she has acquired by bringing the world's attention to Portland through "Portlandia."


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