The theme of the week seems to be about problems, and how we deal with them. It’s hard to tell from the first scene, but looking back, it’s completely obvious. There’s a business type meeting happening in a room, but while everyone is speaking business to each other, but the actual drama is what’s happening under the table, with their phones. Basically, everyone is going through problems at home, either a repair man doing his job wrong, to a pet dying in a vet. It’s a funny juxtaposition scene that plays on how hard it is to hide emotions while talking business.
A problem that I have in general is appearing interesting to people. I just can’t find anything to chat about in life that can hold an interest in a group of people for too long, which is why I write television reviews for a website (hello everyone, I also review X-Files). The next sketch is a very funny examination, and lesson on how to appear interesting. The information is surprisingly good for being a joke sketch. It boils down to “pick a subject you’re interested in” and “pick specifics about that subject to memorize” and “steer the conversation to that direction at any cost”. The added bit of causing confusion to make it look like you know more than it seems is particularly useful… I mean interesting.
When you have a problem, whether it be with the government, or with the treatment of nature, or whatever you’re problem is (it’s pretty non-descriptive in this sketch), you may go on a hunger strike so that someone else solves a problem. This sketch deals with the struggles with going through with a hunger strike, and it does it with very mixed results. It still has a surrealist charm, as every Portlandia sketch does, but most jokes don’t quite land like they should. One exception is the very amusing MTV remix at the end, which was pretty inspired.
The next problem is the problem that one does to ones self. A couple are celebrating their anniversary, and decide to go to a fancy restaurant, and go through a 12 course meal. Of course, every course has a coarse sexual innuendo, one as charmingly lame as the other. Once they get home, they are ready to have the sex… except they need to do it in such a way to account for all the food they ate. What follows is a series of humorous body adjustments, and literal toilet humor. I love the fact that they take a break to go to the bathroom, and after the pain they endure in the bathroom, they are still committed to having the anniversary sex. It’s gross, it’s uncomfortable, it’s disturbing, and it’s very funny.
It’s interesting how we communicate between vehicles, with us even speaking, and next we have an entire silent film sketch all about that. It’s a simple translation sketch, where someone makes a hand movement, and the silent film slide tells you what’s being said with said hand movement. The sketch works, because it’s super relatable, to the point where we don’t even need the slides to understand what they are saying, but the added silent film effects add to the charm.
Finally, we have the through line of the episode, “Most Pro City”. The Mayor, Kyle MacLachlan, is back, and he, like everyone else, has a problem. He finds out that he is the mayor of the least diverse city in America. He tries to find anyone who is the least bit white that work at his office, he finds a gay man, but that’s not enough. The hope in his eyes when he finally finds a black man is palpable, but we find out that he’s only a visitor and doesn’t live in the city because it’s to w… wet, not white, wet. After assuring to fix the wet problem, he finds out that there is a way to show diversity… which is basically doing a “23 and Me” test on everyone in the city to see what other races they can be. It may be unconstitutional, but the Mayor didn’t hear that being said.
The mayor throws a woefully misguided ball where he invites a black journalist to see the diversity that the 23 and Me test has discovered, and it is super uncomfortable to watch! My hand was over my mouth throughout most of this middle bit in shock, but at the same time, I’m laughing because The Mayor genuinely wants to show that he completely wants diversity in his city, but his want to seem progressive is so misguided, it passes several lines to make scene offensive, to funny, to offensive, to funny again. To see someone call themselves black because they are 2% black, and then wear what they think a black person wears is all sorts of wrong! South Park did something similar recently (hello again, I also review South Park), and the results are mostly the same, but there is a much bigger scope in Portlandia, and it’s all the weirder to see.
The journalist, obviously, isn’t very appreciative of this “show of diversity”, and writes a slam piece that she hopes will make the Mayor step down. Unfortunately there is a new Wholefoods 365 opening up, and that takes the spot of the front page. Which… ouch.
Portlandia is a show where it handles offensive jokes carefully. What makes the sketch works is the fact that everything is so well natured, that the fact that every character is so naïve and misguided is almost forgivable. But the blatancy that the sketch has with it’s offensiveness is where the humor comes it, and as problematic as it may be, it’s handled with enough care and talent to make it work. Results may vary with different people though. I’m a straight white dude that grew up on a farm in conservative Canada, I don’t have the widest worldview.