Airing on IFC, Portlandia begun as a series of web sketches done by the SNL stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen and has now grown into compilation show based in Portland, OR and filmed on-location.
In 2011, Carrie and Fred made their first Portlandia debut with a fairly odd pilot episode. With little premise given, viewers were taken into the city of Portland where the lives of various characters were being portrayed around town. The main characters in every skit are played by Carrie and Fred, and what originally started as a seemingly random compilation show now has returning personalities, most popularly Toni (Carrie) and Candice (Fred) from the Women & Women First feminist book store.
The often-absurd show started off a little rough, but has since been absorbed into pop culture and is set to return for its sixth season next year, and a seventh season in 2017.
Perhaps what makes the series so unique is the fact that the two lead actors have admitted they use real houses and buildings for all of the scenes. When it first aired, Portlandia was rejected by many of the locals, as the show can easily be viewed as an insult to Portland (and all of its inhabitants), but now the citizens take it in good fun and many volunteer their homes and shops for filming.
While Carrie and Fred portray all of the main characters, various guest stars have come on the show over the years, including Jeff Goldblum and Jack McBrayer. Every episode consists of multiple scenes, with Carrie and Fred switching characters, costumes, and sometimes genders, for each. The lives of all of Carrie and Fred’s characters tend to intertwine, and the show has frequently filmed so that Fred and Carrie appear multiple times (in different characters) within the same scene in order to stage arguments and conversations between the personalities.
Portlandia also has a few inside jokes for those aware of Portland’s politics. While Kyle MacLachlan poses as the city’s mayor in the show, the actual mayor – Sam Adams – has made his own appearance as the assistant mayor, further proving the good spirit of Portland’s citizens.
The pilot episode immediately began by showing off the much-loved “weirdness” of Portland as Fred tells his friend (Carrie) over the phone about the city where the 90s are still alive. He breaks into song to be followed by joined by musically-inclined unicyclists, midgets, and other bizarre characters. When the song ends, viewers get to jump ahead to the life of two other characters in Portland (also played by Carrie and Fred) who are questioning a waiter on the life of the chicken they’re considering ordering. After they’re given directions to the farm where the chicken was raised, they end up getting sucked into a cult, and the remainder of the show follows their adventure.
Even if you only watch a few minutes into the pilot episode, the weirdness and fun of Portlandia will quickly be apparent. While many aren’t sure of how to take it, fans have admitted that once they manage to grasp the idea (and realize there isn’t much of a plot), they find themselves laughing at the antics of the various characters.
Many fun-hearted Portland citizens have taken the show in all of its glory, and some admit it that many of the scenes portray the uniqueness of Portland perfectly.
While many critics have been harsh on the show, fans have ranked it high. Portlandia has won seven awards, including 2 Primetime Emmys. It’s also gotten 12 nominations and its viewership continues to grow. The last count showed that half a million tuned in to watch Portlandia on IFC, but the show has also gained more fans after it was added to Netflix, where more people were able to discover the series.
Even though some critics aren’t raving about the show, the network is definitely certain that fans love it, and they’re obviously pretty sure that fans won’t be tuning out anytime soon, as this is the second time since the series began that it has been renewed early for not one, but two seasons. So, Portlandia fans can continue to enjoy the crazy skits until at least 2017.
As for the actors, both have expressed the joy they get out of writing the skits and filming the show. Carrie admitted in a recent interview that she never thought the web skits (which she called “ThunderAnt”) would ever grow into such a popular and successful show, but both actors confirmed that the weirdness of Portlandia will be continuing into the future.