Going into Season 7 of Portlandia, one upcoming sketch that had gotten a lot of attention was “What About Men?” centering around two guys who create a male-centric musical as a reaction to things like the Ghostbusters remake, and the rise of social justice movements in general. This would be tonight’s cold-opening, and it did a formidable job of mocking both the men’s rights movement, as well as the insecurity that white men feel now that they have most of the power instead of all of it (to borrow a line from American Dad). The sketch takes a light touch, not portraying the dudes behind the musical as raging misogynists per se, but merely as wrongheaded dopes who think that women and people of color getting more representation in media means they’re now the minority. It’s a reminder of the adage that when you’re used to having an unfair advantage, equality can feel like oppression. “What About Men?” succeeds by avoiding heavy-handedness, and having some seriously catchy music (I’ll be having the title song in my head for quite sometime).
This would be a fine precursor for the main story-arc of the night, which focuses on Fred being appalled that Carrie’s new boyfriend is a hunk. More importantly, he’s a smart hunk with good taste in music! This leads him to believe that male nerds are on the outs again because “they’re taking our smart girls.” That line alone does a fine job of illustrating the point that even the self-stylized enlightened nerds can have retrograde, territorial attitudes about women.
The second segment is where this really takes off, as Fred heads to a stereotypical, 80s looking nerd hideout to round up his fellow eggheads in revolt. He points out that while hunks were blessed at birth with good looks and athletic ability, nerds have to work harder to be interesting in order to appeal to women. If the hunks start listening to good music and reading Ram Dass, they’ll be screwed! While Fred is mostly being an idiot here, there is a kernel of truth to his point, and his rant is actually pretty relatable. There’s an undercurrent of misogyny that drives his motivation, but as someone who spent a fair of time in high school wondering how I could possibly compete with the guys who ran football and track, I couldn’t help but find his rage somewhat understandable.
As it turns out, however, he has no reason to gripe; he’s a hunk himself! After successfully catching a baseball without flinching, he realizes he’s been with the wrong lot the whole time. When he confronts his mother about this, she tells him that he’d actually been a hunk as a child, and she only kept it from him because the popularity of Revenge Of The Nerds led her to believe that it was the wrong time to be a hunk (Fred Armisen was already 18 when that movie came out, but whatever). This arc takes a deliberately broad look at both nerds and hunks (aren’t most guys a little of both?), but it does so in the service of making an essential point about male insecurity. As with “What About Men,” the idea here is that men are constantly in fear of losing what they believe to be rightfully theirs. When I consider that we’re a week away from President Trump, it’s a point well taken.
Almost equally amusing an online date that immediately leads into a therapy session, as the therapist has to quickly size-up if the two people in question are right for each other. After some standard Portlania awkwardness, she decides the two aren’t meant for a relationship, but are ideal candidates to have a one-night stand, then hook up again a few months later after running into each other at a bar. It’s not the type of thing that would inspire any deep laughs, but it was an amusing look at the frustrating immediacy and snap-judgments that often come with online dating.
Other highlights include a lawn care company that searches for the perfect sign to discourage people from letting their dogs defecate on their lawn, and a young couple who treats buying a rug like having a child. Each sketch thrives on a similar premise: applying hyper-seriousness to an activity that actually isn’t particularly serious. The lawn care company puts a great amount of care into picking the exact perfect sign (my favorite was “dog poop attracts mountain lions”), while the couple freaks out when a friend spills coffee on the rug, and quickly has it destroy their lives. Both sketches were amusing looks at what can happen when too much concern is applied to relatively mundane aspects of life.
This was a second straight solid episode to begin Portlandia’s seventh season. Nothing earth-shattering, but a lot of strong, intelligent comedy. Both “What About Men?” and the main storyline were able to critique male entitlement without coming across as heavy handed, and the other sketches provided us with the signature weirdness that Portlandia fans have come to love.
-”What About Men?” begins outside of the feminist bookstore, perhaps as a nod to the owners of the actual bookstore expressing their anger at Portlandia last year.
-But seriously, why ISN’T there a Joe Of Arc?
-The lawncare company being called Stop! In The Name Of Lawn was a sign gag worthy of The Simpsons.
-”From now on, could you call me Scoot?”
-Does anyone refer to Georgia as “the ol’ Peach State?” Because it’s kinda catchy.