More weird stuff goes down in the city of Portland, Oregon.
Aside from the fact its four episodes longer, the second season of the IFC series Portlandia is pretty much second verse, same as the first. The show still mixes hipster-doofus humor with jokes that poke fun at hipster doofuses, and the ratio of material that works to material that doesnít work is more or less even. Your opinion of this season will likely mirror your opinion of the first. Mine did, almost to the letter. I definitely laughed, but the nails-on-a-precious-chalkboard quality of much of the material definitely grated.
Stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen still appear in every sketch and co-write every episode. Jonathan Krisel still co-writes and directs every episode. Allison Silverman, who co-wrote the first season, is no longer involved (sheís now working on the final season of The Office); she has been replaced by Kacey Dornetto, who previously wrote for Community (where she penned the chicken fingers episode and the second seasonís Halloween extravaganza, both classics). Given that Brownstein (whoís still a better, funnier performer than her costar) and Armisen are the primary creative force, the minor changeup in writing staff brings no change to the material created. For better or worse, Portlandia is still Portlandia. (I know nobody will be crying over Silvermanís exit, or is expecting her exit to bring with it massive change. Iím just killing time here.)
As was the case with the first season, I enjoyed the stuff here that poked fun at hipsters, didnít much care for the stuff that plays like it was created by and for hipsters. One interminable sketch here involves a garage band that gains fame after a cat becomes a member. Theyíre later kidnapped by an obsessed fan, and a lot of unfunny nonsense ensues. Itís pretty much one bad idea after another, lame gag after lame gag. I donít know, maybe the satire is so pointed, subtle, and dead-on that it went right over my head. Maybe itís one of those ďyou have to be from PortlandĒ things. Whatever the case, it simply goes nowhere (and takes its sweet time getting there).
The show generally works best when it brings in someone to play against Brownstein and Armisen. This is usually most evident in the sketches set inside the Women and Women First Bookstore, which is still staffed by the most militant feminists youíd never want to meet. One skit finds the proprietors in need of help with their AC unit, and the gentleman who comes to fix it misunderstands all of their comments about fluid sexuality and gender politics. Itís an old gag, yes, but itís still funny. So is the skit where Penny Marshall shows up as an ex-owner of the bookstore. Sheís now become something of a cougar, and Armisenís violent reactions to her newfound beliefs are very, very funny.
The epic season finale (like the finale of the first season, a single plotline fuels the episode) brings back Kyle MacLachlan as Portlandís fictional mayor (the real mayor also makes another appearance as MacLachlanís assistant), who invites Carrie and Fred to dine with him at a downtown restaurant. Thereís a misunderstanding, a bunch of people stand in line for the better part of the day, and some pirate-esque fellows (including Tim Robbins and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones) somehow get involved.
Itís not exactly a great episode, but it does benefit from the inclusion of people who can bring something of a different vibe and energy to the show. (MacLachlan is great, taking his role and running with it. Somebody should give him his own comedy series [preferably one not created by the people who wasted his considerable comedic skills on How I Met Your Mother and a Lot of Women Who Werenít Your Mother But Iím Still Going to Tell You How About How I Slept With Them].)
So itís still a mixed bag. You get a great sketch about bringing back the Battlestar Galactica revamp, but you also have to sit through some stuff about Facebook that plays like itís been sitting on a shelf since 2008. You get a great bit where parents complain about the music collection in their kidsí preschool library, but you also have to suffer through a sketch in which valets who park bicycles keep bringing a guy the wrong bike (a sketch which proves that repeating a bad joke wonít eventually make it funny). But itís a sketch show, and unevenness is a trademark of sketch shows. I just wish someone would finally figure out how to tip the balance of this one a little further in the right direction.
The show is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio; the 1080p transfers have been encoded with AVC, and all ten episodes are housed on a single 50GB disc. The presentation here is a notch or two above that of Season One, offering an image thatís a bit sharper and more refined. The video is still a little on the soft side, but itís not as soft. Aliasing and moirť are still to be found, but the digital artifacting that popped up on the previous set is nowhere to be seen. For what the show is, and for something that is shot on the cheap, uses midrange equipment, and quite obviously is subject to the vagaries of shooting conditions from scene to scene, this is a solid job.
Thereís still no lossless audio option (not that there needs to be), but there is an upgrade to Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks (not that there needed to be). The show is driven by its dialogue, which is always clear and intelligible. The surrounds are used sparingly, occasionally kicking in to channel an effect or two; they also help add some dimensionality to the musical numbers that play a key role in a couple of episodes. (The songs in these numbers are actually quite good, benefiting from Brownsteinís years as a professional musician.) English SDH subtitles are available.
Four episodes come with commentary by Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, and Jonathan Krisel. As with Season One, you really only need to listen to one of these tracks, as any will give you a fairly good overview of the particulars of the showís production.
Disc Two of this two-disc set houses the following:
Portlandia the Tour: Seattle (3 minutes, HD) is footage from a performance of the seriesí stage spin-off.
Inside Portlandia (24 minutes, HD) is a behind-the-scenes featurette. It focuses on the first seasonís production, with only the last couple minutes (which feel tacked on) offering any info on Season Two.
A deleted scene (3 minutes, HD) offers a look at an unused sketch featuring the owners of feminist bookstore.
ďBrunch VillageĒ: The Directorís Cut (45 minutes, HD) is an extended cut of the season finale. Running roughly twice as long as the version originally broadcast, it includes a new introduction, extended and wholly new scenes, and even more weirdness.
Portlandia: A Guide for Visitors is an excerpt from the forthcoming tie-in book.
Itís still uneven, and itís still annoying at times, but itís still pretty funny.
∑ Portlandia: Season One Blu-ray Review