After weeks of reruns, it seems like all of the best shows on television are back this week, including “Fringe,” “30 Rock” and, of course, “American Idol.” And obviously the greatness of the current season of “Jersey Shore” cannot be denied. With all that excellent television flying around, you may not have room for another show in your life, but you should really make time to check out “Portlandia,” the new sketch comedy show that premieres Friday night (January 21) on IFC.
The show was created by and stars “Saturday Night Live” personality Fred Armisen and former Sleater-Kinney (and current Wild Flag) guitarist Carrie Brownstein. In the first episode’s extended opening sequence, Armisen explain the concept of Portland to Brownstein (it’s a place where “young people go to retire,” which is followed by a song that declares “The dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland,” as “all the cute girls wear glasses”). It then settles into a subtle, charming brand of sketch comedy that revolves around a couple who take their devotion to locally-grown, organic food to the craziest of extremes.
“Portlandia” is produced by Lorne Michaels, but it’s a much more pointed, shaggier show than “Saturday Night Live.” Every joke seems to be a “10 percent” gag (a bit of humor that a small portion of the audience will actually get), but the show gets by on its strangeness and particularly on Brownstein’s considerable charisma. She perfectly expresses the show’s low-energy vibe, which provides a nice counterpoint to Armisen’s occasional digressions into desperate flailing. It’s not for everyone, but for anybody who considers Sleater-Kinney one of the greatest bands of all time should check out Brownstein’s new project (though it’s a considerably quieter vibe than, say, “Entertain,” from the group’s final album The Woods).