A bargain-hunting couple find a free parking spot in downtown Portland. Then they cram a full day's activities into the 15 minutes it provides. ...
After his successful first date, a Portland man gets a visit from a Date Fact Checker, who grills him on the truth of what he told his new girlfriend (he's busted for having said his favorite show is "Breaking Bad" when evidence proves he has never seen it). ...
Portland's feminist bookstore tries to bail itself out of debt with a politically correct carwash. ...
And so it goes on "Portlandia," whose crystalline absurdity and truth is back for its fourth season on IFC at 10 p.m. Thursday.
The Peabody award-winning show, too fine-tuned to be dubbed sketch comedy, teems instead with indie-cinema-ish interludes. Its vignettes, larger than life yet lifelike, feel vividly indigenous to Portland, Ore., yet, at the same time, resonate with universal relevance.
It's the product of a remarkable collaboration: Carrie Brownstein (musician, comedian, actress and, by the way, a Portland resident) in saucy cahoots with Fred Armisen (former drummer for the punk-rock group Trenchmouth, and a "Saturday Night Live" alum).
Added to the ferment, of course, is Portland, the show's home base and creative fountainhead.
"I love Portland. I love Carrie," says Armisen, explaining the genesis of "Portlandia" over poached eggs at a Greenwich Village boutique hotel. "I called her: 'What are you up to? Let's come up with some stuff.' I fly out there. And then we did."
What began as just-for-us videos by Armisen and Brownstein evolved into a weekly cable-TV venture once "SNL" producer Lorne Michaels got onboard.
With that, Portland was reintroduced to the world through the lens of "Portlandia."
"It's more a mind-set than a place," muses Brownstein by phone from Portland. "It's an exemplary city in how befuddled it can sometimes be by its own attempts at progressiveness and kindness. Here, your biggest battle is whether something is local versus organic. Or whether your coffee shop provides you with whole milk or half-and-half.
"We try to explore how absurd these kinds of choices can be, and try to ascertain the meaning underneath these silly struggles. Portland is a great microcosm of all this."
Portrayed as well-meaning, forward-thinking but self-deluded, a place typically intent on doing the "right" thing even when it makes no sense, Portland lays bare great comic possibilities. But the show's writers aren't looking for easy gags.
As a humorist, Armisen says he works backward from the real-life curiosities he runs across: He questions what, and who, might account for them.
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein star in the series “Portlandia,” which returns for its fourth season at 10 p.m. Thursday on IFC.×
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