Portlandia’s eighth and final season premieres January 18th, 10pm on IFC.
By Matthew Stanford
Throughout seven seasons, Portlandia’s been fairly consistent for a sketch comedy show. While nothing was ever truly groundbreaking, it helped put IFC on the map as a place for quirky alt programming. (If you’ve never watched it, I view their song “The Dream of the 90s Is Alive in Portland” as the thesis of the show.)
On the surface, it may seem that Portlandia is out to insult the citizens of Portland, which is not the case. Rather than mocking, the tone has always been one of a loving embrace to the unique strangeness of the city and its people. In a way, it’s always been a comedy Twin Peaks, which is why having Kyle MacLachlan play the mayor of Portland throughout the series has always been so fitting.
IFC provided the first four episodes of Season 8 for review. In a nutshell, if you like the show, you’ll continue to like it. If you don’t, there will be nothing here to change your mind. It’s rare for a sketch comedy show to have a planned final season it allows Armisen and Brownstein to play a greatest hits album of the characters that they have created.
There has always been an experimental nature in their approach to the seasons with long form episodes, strange audio cues, and character focused pieces. Portlandia is the sketch comedy equivalent of REM, there was a lot of experimentation along the way, but at the end of the day you hear the song and know it is an REM song.
Season 8 is a bit more paint by the numbers, but the pacing on the skits is faster than it has been in recent seasons. If one skit is not landing with you, the next one comes around quickly. The biggest issue with this season (thus far) is that it is missing its main character, Portland. In previous seasons, it always played a large part of the characters, culture, and aesthetics of the show. This season feels as if the characters could be in any city. Since it is their swan song, the show seems as if the focus is on the character sets played by Armisen and Brownstein and is less about the city and residents that surround them.
One quick side note, whomever does costume design, hair and makeup for Portlandia should win another award. If you look at Fred Armisen’s appearance, and most notably his hair, in every single skit, it is vastly different. They all look authentic in appearance as well.
There are many very funny moments throughout the first four episodes. While I don’t want to spoil the best moments or any celebrity cameos, I would like to highlight my favorite skits: In Episode 1, there’s a “Serial” podcast parody, “Forgotten America: Rural Footprints.” It’s hilarious, and I wish that it would have run a little longer. The police department had to make a decision, wear body cams or have podcasters follow them around at all times. Also in the first episode was a skit involving an infestation of horses that by all accounts should have failed, but made me laugh harder than anything in all four episodes. In Episode 2, there’s a skit about the first female executive partner speaking at her firm right after being promoted. This skit is extremely timely and is very likely to go viral after it airs. Episode 3 was my least favorite of the first four, but my favorite skit was a character going to therapy for the first time. In Episode 4, “Public Library Grass Replacement Project” was a highlight for me. Armisen’s greatest strength is making a purposefully annoying character funny and that is on full display here.
Bottom line: I enjoyed the first four episodes, and I look forward to watching the rest of the season. My hope is that Portland is spotlighted more in the back half of the season.
I give Portlandia Season 8 a B-.