Portlandia returns tonight for its seventh season, and wouldn’t you know, there’s still a lot of material to be mined from the weirdest city on the west coast. This season, the show promises to get back to its roots with more of a sketch show format, rather than the long-form stories recent seasons have focused on. That makes it a great time to get back in. If it’s been a while for you, or if you’ve somehow never seen the show, we’ve put together a list of the ten sketches you have to watch before tonight’s premiere.
1. The Dream of the 90s
The sketch that started it all. This song was the very first thing anyone saw of Portlandia and it did a wonderful job of setting the tone. Two minutes into the pilot episode and you know exactly what you’re in for and what kind of city Portland is. This is the sketch that cemented Portland in people’s minds as “the city where young people go to retire.” A place where you could hang out and work a couple of hours a week at a coffee shop.
In season two, they updated the song to include a few details they missed originally. Specifically, they mentioned the trends of waxed handlebar mustaches, buying hyper-local, raising your own chickens and curing your own meat. Fred Armisen acknowledges that those things don’t sound too much like the 1990s and the song changes to “The Dream of the 1890s.” No matter what century it is, it’s always some kind of ’90s in Portland.
2. Is It Local?
Portlandia really knocked it out of the park with their first episode. Right after “Dream of the ’90s,” they give us this amazing parody of farm-to-table restaurants. The sketch is arguably even more relevant now, as farm-to-table isn’t just a Portland hipster thing. They are everywhere, as are the patrons who can’t just enjoy a meal without asking a million questions. While the sketch takes the idea to an absurd extreme, some of the jokes don’t seem that far-fetched. It isn’t hard to imagine that a restaurant would tell you the name and habitat of the chicken you are about to eat.
This sketch also introduces Peter and Nance, two of the show’s funniest recurring characters. They are an insufferably cute couple who never want to say no to anything. They often don’t become aware of their situation until it’s too late and end up getting involved in Portland’s stranger communities. Like a cult on a farm run by Jason Sudeikis, for example.
3. Air Conditioner (Women and Women First Bookstore)
It was hard to choose one Women and Women First Bookstore sketch because they’re all hilarious. Toni and Candace run a feminist bookstore that remains open despite their apparent reluctance to sell customers anything. (They would like you to sign up for a class, though.) The air conditioner sketch that begins the compilation above is probably the best representation of these characters. The repairman just wants to do his job, but he can’t until Candace and Toni teach him why he shouldn’t use the word “unit” around them. It would have been easy to fall into lazy humorless feminist stereotypes, but Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein avoid them by creating two unique, fleshed-out characters. They realize they provide an important service and have let that go to their heads.
On the other hand, the real-life bookstore that plays Women and Women First actually banned the show from filming there earlier this year. They cited lost profits and accused the show of contributing to the gentrification of Portland. Still, it does make you wonder if maybe the jokes began to hit too close to home.
4. One More Episode
Portlandia is at its best when it’s making fun of something that’s not inherent to Portland. When this season two sketch aired, binge-watching was a relatively new thing. Now that it has become the way most of us watch TV, this sketch hits even harder. Doug and Claire start watching an episode of Battlestar Galactica (remember when we were all obsessed with that show?) and can’t stop. We’ve all been hit by that “one more episode” syndrome, which almost makes this sketch feel like a cautionary tale. Doug and Clair neglect every other part of their lives to watch more Battlestar and are devastated when it’s over. Five years later, this sketch is barely even satire anymore. It almost makes you want to reevaluate how much time you spend binging TV. Almost.
Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani and Carrie Brownstein (Photo via IFC)
5. Around the World in 80 Plates
Any time Kumail Nanjiani is on the show, pure gold starts coming out of the TV screen. Around the World in 80 Plates might be the best sketch the show has ever had. Sadly, no videos exist on Youtube, but the series in available on Netflix. This sketch occurs in the first episode of season two. Fred and Carrie (playing themselves) are on a mission to find a mixologist who has moved to Southern California. When they get there, they head to a restaurant for food only to discover that ordering isn’t so simple. Their waiter wants to guide them through the restaurant’s worldly cuisine and Fred just wants a hamburger. They don’t sell hamburgers; they sell Slamburgers. And of course, every item has a million different styles you can add, like super spiking. That’s where they pour Jack Daniels over your food. Nanjiani is hilarious as the particular waiter who wants to make sure his customers know about every menu item and special, no matter how long it takes.
6. Spoiler Alert
One side effect of our collective binge-watching TV habit is that nobody is every on the same page when it comes to TV anymore. And since most of us want to be surprised, we’re all extremely wary of spoilers. That spoiler sensitivity is lampooned in this season three sketch about a group of friends who can’t talk about anything they’ve seen because nobody is completely caught up. It even ends with a nice callback to the Battlestar Galactica episode. Be warned, though: The sketch contains a fair amount of spoilers. If you don’t yet know that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, this sketch will ruin it for you. Just looking out.
7. 911 Beets Emergency
Somewhere along the line, everyone decided to start eating beets, and with that came an unfortunate side effect. Yes, beets are very good for you. They lower blood pressure; they prevent heart disease, and they make your bones stronger. They also make your toilet look like a scene out of a slasher movie. This Portlandia sketch, depicting a 911 call center, is funny and scatological, sure. It also provides an important service: reminding everyone who just had beets for the first time in a while to calm down. That’s not blood in your stool. It’s just beets. No matter how serious it looks, it’s always beets.
8. Social Bankruptcy
This sketch satirizes the fact that we are so connected to our friends at every moment that we never get any personal time. Carrie, like most of us, is constantly on her phone. She has texts to answer, plans to make, statuses to comment on, and it’s driving her crazy. She just wants to escape. So, she declares social bankruptcy, completely wiping her online presence. As nice as that can sound sometimes, it’s not without its consequences. She is now forced to hang out with the only other people who aren’t on social media. It’s a hilarious sketch that only becomes more relevant with each passing year. Personally, I recommend the Seattle solution for social overload. Say “we should really hang out sometime” and never speak to another human being again.
Still from “Seaworld” (Photo: Via IFC)
9. Eco-Terrorists in Seaworld
Another great group of recurring characters are the most ineffectual eco-terrorists in existence. In season five, they try to organize a protest to save the whales and head to San Diego to fight Sea World. They didn’t count on San Diego being awesome and having tons of fun stuff to do. The big demonstration is constantly pushed back in favor of going to the beach, eating tacos and partying. By the time they do get around to it, they’ve lost sight of the actual goal a bit. It’s a great sketch that gets bonus points for the appearance of Jeff Goldblum, who is one of Portlandia’s funniest recurring guest stars.
Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen in “Weirdo Beach” (Photo: Via IFC)
10. TSA Red Carpet
Probably one of the funniest sketches of last season, and the one that feels the most plausible. TSA Red Carpet begins with a woman who is about to miss her flight due to the long TSA pre-check line. The agent tells her about the TSA’s new premium service, Red Carpet. After being subjected to a creepy-specific background check, members are allowed to breeze right through security on a red carpet. They’re also allowed to bring certain weapons aboard and tell jokes about bombs on the plane. The sketch feels loose and improvised, which makes it even funnier. Given that it comes from one of the more sketch-heavy episodes of last season, it’s a pretty good indication of the kind of humor we can expect from season seven. Portlandia is no longer primarily about making fun of hipsters. Now, it’s a broader, satirical comedy that parodies all aspects of modern life.