Apparently, the concept behind Portlandia started a few years ago when two friends began making videos that made fun of the earnest sanctimony with which some Portlanders do their thing. Then, they posted the videos on their website, Thunderant. What started as just a fun thing to do is now a highly successful TV series that’s about the launch its second season.
Season one of Portlandia premiered on IFC last January and immediately caught fire. The show’s success surprised co-creators and stars Carrie Brownstein of the indie rock band Sleater-Kinney (and now Wild Flag) and Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen.
“We were floored,” says Brownstein, who lives in Portland. “I think people in Portland sort of assumed that no one would get it. But people get it even better elsewhere.”
Fred Armisen was equally surprised. “I get stopped a lot in New York for Portlandia, more than for SNL.”
Aside from the comedic talents of its co-stars, much of Portlandia’s humor comes from the city itself.
“Portland is a sort of aspirational city,” says Brownstein. “I think people move here to be outsiders, to live at the literal edge of the country and the forefront of what people are striving towards.” She sees this as the present-day version of the pioneer spirit that’s always attracted people to the Northwest.
But striving to create a sort of utopia (Portland + Utopia = Portlandia) is not easy. “You can’t just be good, you have to be good or do good in a certain way. And a lot of our characters are trying to deal with that,” adds Brownstein.
It may not be easy, but it is funny to watch “Portlandiers” take political correctness to the extreme and according to Brownstein, it’s something that’s not unique to Oregon’s largest city. “I think there’s sort of a Portlandia in every city, like Brooklyn in New York or Silver Lake in LA.”
Whatever the reasons for its popularity, the show will enjoy a higher profile when season two premieres January 6, 2012.
“We have a lot of guest stars this year,” Brownstein says. But before she divulges any names, Armisen quickly adds, “We don’t want to spoil it.”
So, I will. Expect to see 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, Oscar winner Tim Robbins, SNL alumni Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig, and music legends Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, among others.
“At first they would come because they were friends (with Fred and Carrie): ‘Sure we’ll come and do your show.’ And now it’s becoming a kind of caché: ‘Have you been asked to do Portlandia yet?’ It really mixes it up and gives more people for Fred and Carrie to play off,” says production sound mixer Glenn Micaleff. “The hardest part of my job is not to laugh.”
“Sometimes we’ll have a guest star that will blow our minds with some amazing line,” Brownstein admits. “It’s a lot of fun.”
“And they always love Portland,” adds Armisen. “They get sort of entranced by it.”
“Yeah, a couple of people started talking about real estate.”
While you’re waiting for your celebrity neighbors to move in, get caught up with the new and returning residents of Portlandia. The show’s second season launches Friday, January 6 at 10 pm on IFC.
And be sure to catch our story about the show Thursday, January 5 at 8 pm on Oregon Art Beat.
- Portlandia Oregon Art Beat