VSC // 2013 // 249 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // July 31st, 2013
Too cool for even a progressive school.
It goes without saying the Portlandia, the celebrated IFC sketch comedy series recently nominated for a few Primetime Emmys, is all about quirk. It lives on quirk. It dies on quirk. It quirks even when it doesn't need to quirk. It probably quirks when it twerks (sorry, old man trying to be hep here). In the hands of satirists Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (along with their collaborator, co-creator, and director Jonathan Krisel), this insightful showcase of Pacific Northwest weirdness can best be described as an eccentric's descent into the mouth of the mundane, with just a little bit of well-meaning madness thrown in for good measure. The premise is simple-our duo essay numerous roles and recurring characters to showcase the surreal, often subtle humor of the hallowed/hated hipster universe. Unlike previous seasons, however, there is a concentration on certain match-ups. These pairs, previous only offered in small snippets, get running storylines this time up, and the result makes Portlandia a much more meaningful experience. Before, you felt like you were simply seeing snapshots of lives. Now, things feel fuller, denser, and no less clever.
As with Season Two, this new DVD presentation offers 11 episodes, the complete third season plus the bonus of January's "Christmas in Portlandia" holiday special. A typical episode of show will revolve around Fred and Carrie getting into some manner of mix-up, while other "personas" around them deal with their own unusual and often intertwining issues. Set within the fabled Oregon town and populated with a wide range of oddballs, weirdoes, intellectuals, and clearly fictional found elements, it's both insightful if slightly irritating. Sometimes the targets are obvious. Sometimes, obscurity ruins the bit. Again, there is an unusual amount of oddball cameos (Jack White, Kurt Loder, Martina Navratalova) and a piecemeal approach to every 20 minute installment. Sometimes, a sketch will be incredibly brief. Other times, it will overstay its welcome. For those looking for a quick overview of the episodes, here are the basic narratives offered:
* "Winter in Portlandia" -- the holidays bring unnecessary weight gain, a vacation destination start-up and a shout out to The Beach Boy's Pet Sounds.
* "Take Back MTV" -- a couple of concerned citizens recruit a bunch of former VJs to take back the fabled cable music channel.
* "Missionaries" -- The Mayor sends his two best examples of city living to Seattle to recruit new residents to the town.
* "Nina's Birthday" -- a big celebration has people practicing their Spanish culture and getting bank loans to "fit in."
* "Squiggleman" -- a group of concerned parents put together a musical group for kids.
* "Off the Grid" -- a bed and breakfast is under investigation as the Mayor steps down amid scandal.
* "The Temp" -- the new mayor hopes to enlist some familiar faces to keep her position of power.
* "Soft Opening" -- the bed and breakfast is about to open.
* "Alexandra" -- a new roommate complicates a couple's life while the city is overrun with art.
* "No Fo-0-Fo Bridge" -- life continues on in the strange Pacific Northwest city.
* "Blackout" -- the mayor's unpaid electric bills cause the whole city's power to be shut down.
In the previous review of this series, we made the observation that this was more of a smile show than a laugh out loud experience. You recognize the various archetypes. You see the satiric spin given on everyday existence, and grin from ear to ear in either silent agreement or less than vocal guffaws. Well, Season Three is more of the same, except that there are times when familiarity with the material and the people involved brings out more of a sound. Yes, you will chuckle here and there, allowing your face a chance to rest while the belly begins convulsing from fun. The things that worked before-Armisen in drag, Brownstein infantile whining with the best of them-continue said trend here and the goofy guest stars (including Kyle McLachlan and Rosanne Barr as the mayor and his replacement) really shine. One of the best things the series has ever done is the MTV episode, a real throwback to the days when TV was more innocent and inventive. It's a perfect bit of nutty nostalgia. Oddly enough, Portlandia is celebrating the very thing that would have probably stopped this particular show from airing in the first place.
In addition, the whole kid's band element is on the nose, as is the boondoggle over the bed and breakfast. On the other hand, the general hipster thing, constantly being deconstructed and simultaneously rebuilt by our present cultural clime can get a bit boring here. We get it, we get it: some people in the Pacific Northwest have lost complete touch with reality and turn everything and anything into a cause to complain and critique. Sometime, the rants work. In other instances, they come across as hollow and poorly conceived. Something that's none of those things, however, is a running PSA ad joke about milk substitutes. As with all continuing gags, it has a predictable quality that's both comforting and captivating. We can't wait to see what the next bit of advice will be. In the end, Portlandia: Season Three is basically more of the same. More fun. More fascinations. More obsessions. More offbeat observations. It may not be as clever as it thinks it is, but what is nowadays
About the only real complaint one can file here is the difference between DVD and Blu-ray. Previously we had some nice things to say about the HD version of this show, with some specific caveats. Here, the 1.78:1 anamorphic image is good, but suffers from the softness and lack of clarity one gets from a low resolution release. Make no mistake, the video element is still polished and professional -it just doesn't have the "pop" we expect from the present format. The sound situation is similar. Though both the Blu-ray and the DVD offer Dolby Digital 2.0, but here, the aural elements are a bit less...clear. As for added content, there is less of that as well. We get just two deleted scenes and 24 minutes of comedian (and frequent guest star) Kumail Nanjiani doing something called "Kumail Tours Portlandia." Within these bits are ambush style profiles of a chicken refuge, a female-friendly sex toy boutique, and an overview of the local Steampunk society, among six other topics.
If you are an established fan of the series, Portlandia: Season Three will not disappoint. If you've never seen the show and are curious about what it contains, go back to past collections and catch-up. Only then will you be able to fully appreciate what Krisel, Armisen, and Brownstein are doing.
Not guilty. As good as, or in some instances, better than, the seasons that
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 249 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes