After three narratively driven episodes to kick off season six, “Weirdos Beach” returns Portlandia to its sketch roots. No grand exploration of growing up or anthropological study of the music festival experience, instead it’s a loose collection of takes on various music and car-related topics. While the former approach yields the show’s better episodes, there’s still nothing wrong with the format, and the bulk of “Weirdos Beach” has enough clever jokes and guest stars to keep it on an even keel. None of the sketches are instant classics, but for the most part they hold the line and keep season six up.
The episode’s runner sketch returns us to the life of goth weirdos Jacqueline and Vincent, last seen being acquitted of taxidermy shop arson thanks to the legal expertise of Paul Reubens. Evidently the experience has pushed them to step outside their comfort zone of graveyards and that pile of rocks downtown, as Jacqueline wants to go to the beach before the summer’s out. As a comparatively new addition to the Portlandia ecosystem, the weirdos haven’t become the well-trodden territory that some other couples have been, and both Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are clearly enjoying themselves as they display how committed they are to this lifestyle, hand twitches and mortuary enthusiasm on full display.
They’re also aware that despite the weirdos’ resignation at how much no one bats an eye at their behavior, the pair is funniest when they’re allowed to go out into the world. This happens early on when their hearse—of course—breaks down, forcing them into an impromptu memorial (“You will live forever in darkness and the black pit that is my heart”) and a car rental office. The star of the segment turns out to be Idiotsitter’s Jillian Bell as the car rental agent, falling into that perfect groove of Portlandia straight men/women whose inability to bat an eye at the madness winds up feeding into it. Case in point, her offering of a family cruiser. (Jacqueline: “A family of what? Ravens?”)
Similarly, another guest star keeps things moving once they make it to the beach, as they pitch their camp next to none other than Glenn Danzig, motherfucker. Danzig, motherfucker plays a Romanian named Radu who may or may not be a daywalker vampire, but who has learned the ancient art of how to relax and passes it to Vincent: “Sometimes, to have a good time, you have to dress a little lame.” This produces some predictable but no less amusing sight comedy of a goth in brightly colored shirt and shorts, evoking memories of the “SeaWorld” beach party from last season but with the added dichotomy of black and white instead of bright colors. And the abruptness with which the two return to their Addams Family lifestyle works to the joke’s advantage, allowing for a return to form and one more set of faux-terrifying ghoul faces.
On the sketch front, the best outing is the debut of BWOW and its style of “twangy, stripped-down, and sensual music.” Going all the way back to its “one more episode” sketch, Portlandia’s a show that enjoys poking fun at the television landscape, and its observation that the opening titles of most every prestige (Breaking Bad, Justified, The Jinx, True Detective season one) and faux prestige (Ray Donovan, True Blood, Sons Of Anarchy) cable drama sound the same is a smart one. “Sound effecty things to evoke like a skull or something” makes for a particularly cutting observation. The added framing device of the sketch as being an album informercial means they get to cycle through a lot of different options, and the strength of the joke means that all they have to do is play ten seconds of various tracks and not offer any sort of embellishment beyond that.
A similarly well-paced musical gag comes up at a convention, where the two reveal the next big thing to keep music reliable in this age of Pandora and Spotify: That One CD That’s Been In Your Car For The Last Ten Years (TM)! It’s a great joke, one of those things that’s so perfectly universal and yet so rooted in the back of your mind you don’t think of it until attention is called to it, and the writers come up with an list of CDs that fit the bill perfectly. (Which also leads to various impressions of Cars album cover pose impressions, icing on the cake.) It also relies on that old Portlandia standby of someone’s faulty idea eventually falling apart, between cars phasing out CD players and the random introduction of a scratchy record player eventually leading Brownstein to declare “Fuck music.”
The night’s loosest sketch is the introduction of the TSA Red Carpet classification, which puts Armisen and Brownstein in frizzy wigs and Sgt. Pepper-style jackets and just allows them to riff on the virtues of VIP boarding. It has a definite improvisational feel to it, as if they entered the sketch with one idea and then started throwing out random details about just what you could get away with (“You can do stand-up for an hour straight and end every joke with ‘There’s a bomb on this flight!’”) and what it would take to get into this group (“Have you ever considered changing your name? What about Danza?”) Plus, the sketch manages to stick the landing—or takeoff as it were—by going to what could be a great closing reveal in the five-year waiting list, and then skipping ahead the five years to create a Red Carpet ad with the winning slogan “Off ya go.”
An unfocused feel helps the Red Carpet sketch, but it dooms the sketch on the missing charger. While there’s a seed of a good idea in how weirdly possessive people get about their electronics, the decision to set the action at the Oregon School for the Deaf is a baffling decision. Every beat of the sketch—ominous music, crazy Armisen stare, appearance by Moshe Kasher—feels like it could have just as easily happened in any other office setting, and the gimmick that it’s silent adds nothing to the joke beyond making sure that everyone knows the ASL for “my charger.” Plus, the fact that Armisen’s character has to bang on tables and windows to get attention (i.e. make some noise) brushes up on being insulting. With no obvious reason, trying to figure out the reason detracts from any inherent joke, and creates the one false note in an episode that does a good job at simply being funny.
- This Week In Portland: Portland is only two hours from the Pacific Ocean coast, and trips to the beach are very popular. Newport, Astoria, and Manzanita are all fine destinations, though it looks like Portlandia simply made use of the beaches on the Willamette River for shooting this. And speaking personally, my One CD That’s Been In Your Car For The Last Ten Years (TM) is Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind.
- In case you missed the link above, be sure to check out Marah Eakin’s interview with Glenn Danzig, motherfucker, about his experience shooting the episode. (The various uses of “motherfucker” above are due to the fact that ever since the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode he appeared in, I’m incapable of tying Danzig, motherfucker, without it.)
- Unused songs from BWOW include: Snakeskin, Tree Cutter, Crooked Cop Who Loved To Drink, Nashville Darkness, Memphis Darkness.
- Gordon and Katya on True Blood’s theme: “I felt like I just got gangbanged by a vampire.” “I want to watch that show to see how it falls apart!”
- “I guess the car just has a USB jack, or some kind of Bluetooth shit.”
- “Would you like to be made love to as you go through security?”
- “Are you familiar with Billabong? Kind of fratty. But they pop.”
- “That was fun.” “Quite.”