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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Portlandia: “Cat Nap”

Illustration for article titled iPortlandia/i: “Cat Nap”
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I'm a little self-conscious reviewing this, my least favorite episode so far of season two, because I feel if I had personal experience with some of the things being spoofed here (read: if I was both cooler and had fewer Y chromosomes than I do) I would have a better impression of "Cat Nap" as a whole. So, if you usually take that letter grade up there with a few pinches of salt, feel free to dump out a whole cellar. Because as good as Miranda July is in the cold open about the shop with nothing to sell, and as pitch-perfect as "She's Making Jewelry Now" might be, those sketches are mostly lost on me.

Just Two Girls

Still, I can appreciate that this bit taps into the awkwardness and jumpy cuts of The Lonely Island's Just 2 Guyz video. And I appreciate the misplaced optimism that this, like so many Portlandia sketches, is operating from. "Well, the idea of a boutique store that sells only two outfits is appealing to me, so I assume it would be appealing to everyone else." Dreams are running into hard realities here, and it's weirdly adorable to see them realized and then dashed in the space of two minutes. I think we can all agree that the passive-aggressive banter between Carrie Brownstien and July is on point too:

Best Moment: "Have you lived in New York? I think I'd know if you had."

Jayde Speaks SevYn

I can't be certain if Gahvin Quin (Fred Armisen) is supposed to be the knot-store customer in this Kickstarter-featuring sketch. He has the same wig and the same soup-strainer, but he also seems to be employing the services of a Deeptone9000 voice modulator. Recurring character status aside, he's putting out a distinctly Jemaine Clement vibe here. It's not that or the buffering jokes that really got me though; my favorite element has to be the non-cleared stock image with the giant COPYRIGHT watermark stamped across its front. It's the first time I've seen a show mine that particular territory, but it made me wonder about Kickstarter's role in all this: JS7 is obviously shitty and Gahvin's vision for the music video is hackneyed, but Daddy kicks in the full 25 Gs. So, Kickstarter is home to unworthy causes… but sometimes it works out for them… anyway? I'm just wondering if there was any discussion about what light to portray the pledge website in.

Best Moment: The aforementioned watermarks.

The Intern

Brownstein has said that if she and Armisen had to exist as Portlandia characters for the rest of their lives, they'd pick the feminist bookstore owners in a heartbeat, but my goodwill is getting stretched a bit thin this season. More than just wearing out their welcome, Toni and Candace are starting to feel like extra padding to be deployed whenever Portlandia needs to fill a few minutes. Or maybe I was just hoping against hope that an Amber Tamblyn cameo meant that fiance David Cross wasn't far behind. She's a game straight woman, and Armisen's rambling description of the drunko brother is good because Armisen's always good when he rambles. But the premise that the store isn't even organized to sell books (kind of like Will Forte's sword salesman in Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie) doesn't hold much surprise anymore.

Best Moment: We do plenty of marketing. We have an ad. We have our sign out front…
Toni: We're here.

She's Making Jewelry Now

More on-the-nose than season one's "Put A Bird On It," "She's Making Jewelry Now" is another shot at the Etsy set. Except that the jewelry-maker appears incredibly satisfied with her new vocation…and the jewelry's pretty attractive? The song's catchy, and Brownstein gets to show off a bit of the natural charisma that makes her such a force on the stage, but this is another bit like last week's "Zero-Packaging Grocery" that's charming, very watchable, and light on laughs. The only pointed commentary came at the end with Fred progressing through the stages of dissatisfied customer grief, the last phase of which is "considering grad school."

Best Moment: Like "Everyone Becoming DJs" or "The Dream Of The 1890s," Portlandia's great at identifying herd mentality in the alternative set, and Fred's capitulation to craft-making mania—and his subsequent appearance in the song—are nice twists.

Smooth Moovers

Whether it's because of something as laudable as reducing your footprint, or something as laughable as prizing cool over customers, small businesses in Portlandia are completely dysfunctional. In an episode of middling sketches, "Smooth Moovers" is the highlight, with some great (improvised?) work by both Brownstein and Armisen, and more of a story arc than individual sketches usually get.

Best Moments:

I know Family Guy gets a lot of grief around here, but when the Smooth Moovers rode their trailer down the sidewalk and immediately collapsed into a pile of splayed limbs and toppled knickknacks, my first thought was "That's a Family Guy gag."

Armisen: "Oh, you want that moved? So the bigger stuff too—the chair?"

"The trick we do is we come right back."


I think its Springfield-like sense of place is one of Portlandia's best qualities, and it's nice when we get not only recurring characters, but also callbacks to previous sketches. In last week's episode there were Echo Echo records on display at the Shooting Star preschool, and a little popup for Cat Nap appears during Jayde Speaks SevYn's Kickstarter video. I think it's that interconnectedness that keeps even weaker episodes from sinking into tedium. So IFC's upcoming travel book that maps the show's many storied landmarks doesn't sound like a bad idea.

But back to the wrap-around sketch. Kristen Wiig obviously excels when she's playing unhinged characters, so casting her as a gun-toting version of Mel from Flight Of The Conchords is a natural fit. Whether she's fabricating a history with Pink (AKA Barbara), doing prop comedy with a cauliflower/STD ("What happened?"), or narrating her green bean casserole progress, Wiig's elevating the sketch, but Armisen and Brownstein aren't given much to do besides be alternately scared and weirded out. Maybe it's just the focus on gimmicky bands that doesn't really do much for me. Even when Portlandia's main sketches don't work they're at least exploring some unspoilt comedic territory, but the same can't be said here. And even Kevin the cat's role just reminds me of Mark the Chinese Lawyer from The Sarah Silverman Program.

Ultimately, I think what sank this episode was its lack of scenes where Brownstein and Armisen could play off each other, improvise, and generally showcase their awesome chemistry. Instead, the guest stars got all the good lines, Feminist Book Store didn't bring it, and with all the music crammed into this episode there wasn't enough room left for strong jokes. At least the Pitchfork gag ended things on a high note.

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