As you’re probably well aware, Portland, Ore., enchanted land of green-roofed Walmarts, hyper-vigilant composters, and craft-centric corner stores, has its very own sketch comedy series on IFC that's dedicated to (gently) mocking the City of Roses.
It's an easy target.
After wrapping up a successful third season last month, “Portlandia” proves that taking the piss out of exaggerated — and frequently obnoxious, mostly oblivious — Portland archetypes (militant bike messengers, self-righteous locavores, bird-crazed interior decorators, and so on) can elicit both deep chuckles and awkward cringes from folks everywhere. As MNN’s New Jersey-based food blogger Robin Shreeves remarks: “I find the show is funniest when it’s poking fun and making caricatures of people who are kind of like me, who can sometimes take the things we care about to self-righteous extremes.” And then there’s Kimi Harris, another member of the MNN blogger family who is actually a Portland resident. She verifies in a recent post: “Many of us do have backyard chickens, cure our own meats, have sausage parties, pickle our own vegetables and brew our own beer.”
While the foodie-skewering sketches have gotten a fair amount of play here on MNN, I should also note that “Portlandia” is now lampooning a topic that I've been covering for some time now: the tiny house movement.
Well, sort of.
Originally created for a “Portlandia”-themed film festival by filmmaker Dawn Jones, “Here It Is” is a 2-minute video featuring an exuberant micro-dwelling enthusiast named "Katie" who invites over a couple of friends to tour her “sustainable” new digs. I won’t give away the entire thing but as Curbed notes, the silly spoof probably left the actual “Portlandia” writing team wondering why they didn’t tackle the trend first.
Actually, they kind of already have. In a web-only “Portlandia” spinoff from IFC, a variety of real Portland institutions are visited by comedian Kumail Nanjiani: tattoo parlors, vegan strip clubs, a halfway house for retired chickens ... you get the picture. In the series, Nanjiani also tours a 119-square-foot abode in northeast Portland that's built into the back of an Isuzu truck. This petite "house truck" is quite beautiful: a cozy, custom-built tiny-home-on-wheels that owner John Labovitz refers to as a "Victorian RV." The same video also features a 20-something woman puffing away on a Calabash pipe. There's also talk of a neighbor who walks her cat in a stroller. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
But back to “Here It Is,” which I think is actually less funny than the Nanjiani tiny house tour. Probably because the latter is, well, real.
When posting about the video, the NRDC’s Kaid Benfield initially mistook it as an actual sketch from “Portlandia.” I’m guessing he isn’t all that familiar with the show as the absence of stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen is a dead giveaway. Benfield also name-checks several comedies on “cable TV these days” that are similarly cringe-y. Most were canceled either recently or years ago (Mike White and Laura Dern’s brilliant “Enlightened” and Lisa Kudrow’s sublime “The Comeback," both for HBO) or are on hiatus (“Curb Your Enthusiasm"). I’ve always found the region-specific ribbing of “Portlandia” to be more akin to Seattle's late, great sketch comedy series “Almost Live!" (a staple of my childhood) with a generous dash of the surreal, cross-dressing greatness of "Kids in the Hall" thrown in.
Although it hasn’t been made official, I’m guessing “Portlandia” will be back for a fourth season on IFC. Perhaps then Brownstein and Armisen can give tiny houses a proper send up.