Fred Armisen’s 'Portlandia' is Changing TV
Fred Armisen, known for his time as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, has collaborated with the help of Lorne Michaels, to create the comedy sketch show Portlandia. The show revolves around fictional and “eccentric” Portlandians — in a normal context Portlanders — to create a backdrop for a city in the Midwest that most people simply forget. Armisen and co-star Carrie Browstein, a guitarist and singer, are the main actors of the show whose ever changing roles prove to be quite entertaining. The product is something remarkably different from anything currently on television and it is about time. Good new television are becoming hard to find, but IFC’s new hit may be a beacon of light.
After half-way through watching the first episode of the first season, it hit me, “Oh, the show is supposed to be like that!” Of course it is so indie, it is on IFC, not a mainstream parent company like NBC. This show speaks to a brand new audience — a generation that has been raised with YouTube and two minute comedy sketches; those who can appreciate the quirk in comedy. With a production budget only $1 million dollars for the first season, it goes to show that you don’t need a huge budget to make a good quality show. However, as I was watching, I could not help but feel as if I were watching a really well-made YouTube series.
Is Portlandia on to something? Will TV shows cease to follow the typical half an hour sitcom archetype, with a regular regular main cast of more than two or three whom the central plot caters to? Instead, will more shows become more regularly acquainted with the structure of many skits that are tied together only by the familiar faces of the actors, whose characters have different lives every time we see them and the only universal factor the city setting? Would that necessarily be a bad thing?
The show clearly represents the indie spirit of the new wave of video entertainment made popular through sites such as YouTube, where up-and-coming series that don’t portray conventional ideas (The Guild and The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl) can launch. They may not be fit for TV, but they garner a TV-esque viewership.
Co-creator Claire Evans credits the success of the show to the growing mainstream popularity of the city itself. I have to disagree because as a fan of the show, I have never been to Portland and as a New Yorker, I am unyielding when it comes to which city is most appealing. Rightly enough, Evans questions, “Which fawning New York Times profile of a Portland farm-to-table organic restaurant catalyzed us into the mainstream?” which refers to one of the skits in the first episode of the series. Rather, the appeal of the show is the refreshing comedy it offers. You can never tire of the characters because they are rarely the same. You cannot criticize the plot for dragging because each sketch is less than five minutes. There are only so many original TV shows out there. So, you also can’t call Portlandia unoriginal. In fact, in contrast with new shows that go through the same list of “it’s already been done,” Portlandia is changing the face of television.
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