10 Ways Portlandia Is Actually About L.A.
Heather Graham and Carrie Brownstein in Portlandia
Season 4 of Portlandia is under way, and as the premiere last week proved, there's still a lot of mileage left in this hybrid sketch show, character comedy and pop culture commentary. Creators, writers and lead actors Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are back with more wry takes on modern living, revisiting old characters and topics while exploring some new ones too. And while the show is quite obviously set in Portland, Ore., the duo has admitted that it was inspired, at least in part, by Los Angeles as well.
But what themes and trends has the show tackled that scream L.A. the loudest? Below, in no particular order, we take a look. Plus, we offer some scoop on the new season - new episodes of which air on Thursdays at 10 p.m. on IFC.
It's no coincidence that this now-classic episode features a trip to "So Cal." The pretension and excess of mixology is surely on display in a much more grandiose way here in L.A. than it will ever be in Portland. The "homemade bitters, lime zest, egg whites, egg shell, egg yellows and rotten banana" that Andy Samberg uses for his crazy concoction here aren't even that much of a stretch from the laundry list of strange stuff we've seen thrown in drinks at Los Angeles' swankiest hot spots.
Thrift Shopping & Selling
Portland is "hip" but in a notably more hippie, casual way than L.A. So while Armisen's snooty buyer behind the counter at the resale thrift shop rings true, it's way more accurate here in Los Angeles, where, let's face it, people get judged for their clothing choices a lot more. We've all felt this kind of shopper's shame at Wasteland, Buffalo Exchange and indie thrift spots around town, but the irony (winked at in this clip) is that the person selling usually is cooler than the person picking when it comes to retro references and fashion acuity. Nowhere is that more true than in Hollywood, where everyone is a stylist, a pseudo-stylist or has worked with one at some point.
Raising funds for creative projects in music, film or art is not specific to L.A., of course. But the proliferation of well-to-do directors and Hollywood-based actors who've taken to Kickstarter and its ilk for money - money they sometimes have in the bank but just don't want to spend - has gotten a bit ridiculous. Girls star Zosia Mamet and her bombed band campaign come to mind. We think Mamet's campaign should have been the one parodied here. After all, just as in the clip above, her daddy (David Mamet) had the bucks all along. Instead, Brownstein parodies an L.A. musician, Echo Park's own IAMEVE , right down to the singer's red hair, vintage dress and director pal.
The old-school vibe of the Deuce Hotel in this ep brings to mind a few boutique spots in New York. But there are also shades of some well-known L.A. spots: the weird bathrooms and the "DJ in the lobby" seen at modern hotels like the Standard; the old-school living room vibe at the Hollywood Roosevelt and the W; and even the "complimentary turntable for each room," an actual thing at the Redbury , complete with ironic vinyl.
Everyone's a DJ
Disclaimer: We like to play music at a few bars and clubs around town. We don't consider ourselves a "DJ," per se, but rather, a "selector" with great taste in music. And we do invite our friends to come and "see us spin!" sometimes. Um, yeah... With that out of the way, we'll acknowledge that, indeed, everyone's a DJ and has been since this "trend" started to develop around the start of the millennium. As this much-touted clip illustrates, it has gotten out of hand in a few ways. The niche genres that people think make what they're doing special, for one. L.A. is the music capital of the world and has more clubs and bars than Portland, meaning that we've got way more friends who fancy themselves laptop spinners. Still, the photocopied-flyer attacks seen here aren't quite right for L.A. We're too cool for all that here. We just bury our friends digitally: with Facebook invites, timeline takeovers and obtrusive tagging techniques.
Artisanal, Organic, Locally Sourced Everything
Our cultural obsession with wholesome eating has gone way beyond organic foods. We practically have to see documents, photos and the name of the animal we'll be eating, for "ethical reasons." This episode skewered the hypocrisy and trendiness of food "label whores" who won't put anything that isn't branded or certified P.C. in their mouths. It eventually veered off into a Sister Wives spoof, but eating is a huge part of the show in general, and the 20 questions posed to the waitress are all too familiar in health-conscious Los Angeles.
And some L.A.-like subjects to be explored in Season 4, which is on now (including some spoilers)...
Downtown Parking & The 15 Minute Myth
The season premiere opened with Kirsten Dunst guest-starring in a pretty spot-on commentary about what's good for us and what's bad for us, and the contradictory info we all read and spout as gospel from online sources. But the part Angelenos will relate to specifically sees Brownstein and Armisen in downtown Portland, trying to find parking and avoiding high-priced lots by parking in a 15-minute loading zone. They manage to do a myriad of things in less than 15 minutes, because nothing really takes longer than that, right? In L.A. we tend to have the same attitude, but the truth is, it's as unrealistic as this skit.
The sharing mindset and its influence on local economies is a bona fide game changer and a part of a lifestyle zeitgeist that's not likely to end anytime soon. So it was only a matter of time until Portlandia did a send-up. This takes the conceptual anti-ownership ideas behind Uber, Airbnb and the like to nutty extremes. Or does it?
From their garish punk couture to the obligatory cute pet, the archetypal punk rock panhandler is explored in Season 4, ending with a "big reveal": They're actually educated and from good, well-to-do families. No clips of this scene are available yet, but here's a fave from an old show that seems to utilize the same wardrobe.
In episode 3 of Season 4, Brownstein decides to declare "social bankruptcy." You'll have to watch to see what that means, but let's just say it's something we've probably all wanted to do when overwhelmed by email, texts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. on a given day. The storyline revisits the besieged info spiral in the clip here. It may not be specific to L.A., but we'd be remiss not to mention that Fred's "mind-fi" overload ends with a Top 10 list, not unlike this one.
See also: 10 Best Independent Bookstores in L.A.
Lina Lecaro on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter:
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Los Angeles.