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TV Series Review

You've got your standard television sitcom. You've got your rare sketch comedy. And then you've got Portlandia.

Portlandia is a reality all its own—a curious land of sketch comedy located in the faraway province called Independent Film Channel. Its only full-time residents are Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, a couple of comedians who've been working together since 2003. At first they merely lived in Portland, Ore. But as their sketches ever more reliably skewered the city and its oh-so-trendy hipster vibe, a new kingdom was born on television—a place populated by feminist bookstore owners and picky diners, of naive businesspeople and not-so-radical ecoterrorists.

So while the population of Portlandia is small, it draws a surprisingly loyal band of tourists to IFC every week.

The modern embodiment of a cult television show, this series has unearthed mounds of mainstream accolades, from a Peabody Award in 2011, to a bevy of Emmy nominations (and a couple of wins for costume design), to a shout-out from Jerry Seinfeld. "I think that's the best comedy on TV right now, and it's easily one of the best comedies of all time," the respected comedian told Vulture in 2014.

Paradoxically, though, that's what makes Portlandia a bit frustrating.

This sketch comedy is funny. Its satire of West Coast culture is cogent, yet strangely gentle. And Armisen and Brownstein don't even always rely on graphic innuendo or foul language to get their laughs. But if the first three sketches in an episode keep things Abbot-and-Costello-level family friendly, the fourth will feature a litany of curses (some of them bleeped) or a graphic sexual aside, joke or situation (gay or straight or even other). And all of a sudden the fun, half-hour romp turns sour.

Portlandia might've come closest to mainstream fame with its "Put a Bird on It" sketch, wherein a couple of well-meaning entrepreneurs walk around a boutique and slap images of birds on things. Birds, these altruistic busybodies believe, make everything better.

Portlandia itself sometimes doesn't even need a bird. But at others, not even that fair feathered friend can save it.

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Episode Reviews

Portlandia: 1-29-2015
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