Dream of '90s alive in season three of ‘Portlandia'

by Kate Sullivan | 2/12/13 11:00pm

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If you have ever seen any part of "Portlandia," then you will know that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are off their rockers in the best possible way. There are dumpster divers, bicycle movers, Harajuku Girls visiting "Coffee Land" the quirky comedy duo has proven themselves to be endlessly entertaining and inventive. Now in their third season on IFC, Brownstein and Armisen have changed their sketch comedy game ever so slightly and are featuring episodes with more plot while retaining their normal levels of insantiy.

"Portlandia" is set in Portland, Ore., the hipster hub "where young people go to retire," according to the show's first episode, which featured a musical romp sequence with the refrain "The dream of the '90s is alive in Portland."

Well, the dream is still alive, but this season, the satire draws on modern-day events and situations to whine about. As always, the chemistry and comedic timing between Armisen and Brownstein is spot-on, made even more impeccable by fantastic editing that allows jokes to rapidly transition into each other.

One of the strongest bits so far has been "Spoiler Alert," a riff on people who TiVo or Hulu their shows instead of watching it when episodes air. The sketch features a dinner party of people interrupting, covering their ears and making truly awesome faces combining exasperation and incredulity at their friends' refusal to not disclose the pertinent details of pop culture.

What makes this sketch is its subtlety; the references range the gamut from "Breaking Bad" to "Game of Thrones" to a whisper about Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father. Spoiler alert: the whole thing is actually a dream.

Perhaps Armisen and Brownstein's most beloved characters, Toni and Candace of "Feminist Bookstore," return once again. This time, they have discovered an angry Yelp review, a quintessential staple of disgruntled hipster culture, that certainly does its job in angering Toni and Candace to the point of passive-aggressively accusing every customer in the store of being the unsettled store patron.

After trekking to a sports bar to track down their Yelper, Toni and Candace realize their displeased patron is Martina Navratilova, a retired professional tennis player. How they identified her? By her apparent drink of choice, the "burn your face margarita." Other staple characters such as the lovable, easygoing and often unsuccessful Peter and Nance return and this time, they are opening a bed and breakfast.

They almost don't pass inspection due to their creaky stairs and stuffed animals strewn in and on the bathroom vanities; however, luckily for them, their dishes of hand soap double as edible cookies.

My personal favorite, though I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, has to be "Fart Patio," which is exactly as it sounds, though it is even more hilarious in execution. Brownstein and Armisen are teachers Malcolm and Kris who dine out at a vegan raw food eatery. You can probably guess the rest, though instead of simply passing audible flatulence, Malcolm and Kris continue their conversations as normal but simply add the announcement of "I'm farting" as they chatter on.

It's only when the waitress directs them to the restaurant's fart patio (complete with personal flatulence hand fans), that they experience some sort of relief.

Trying their hand at adding more cohesion to this season, Armisen and Brownstein draw on absurdist humor in "Nina's Birthday." While diners try to determine how much each guest owes to the bill, one summons a professional bill splitter. The result is hysterical, and could seriously be much utilized. Calling all unemployed soon-to-be graduates?

Though I should not dare to make such a claim, "Portlandia" is currently a much more satisfying division of quirky sketch comedy than the granddaddy of them all, "Saturday Night Live," which has come to rely on repetitive, audience-pleasing gimmicks; seriously, "What's up with that?" And though "30 Rock" was not a sketch show itself, with the eccentricities of Liz Lemon gone forever, discover "Portlandia" if you haven't already.