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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Portlandia: “Cool Wedding”

Illustration for article titled Portlandia: “Cool Wedding”
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"Cool Wedding" is not a particularly good or particularly bad episode of Portlandia, but I think it is a particularly good representation of what this show does. There's a solid wrap-around plot that deconstructs a specific strain of fuck-you cool. There's a rhythmic sketch that echoes (but falls short of) season one's "Have You Read…?" And there's more of Armisen doing what Armisen does best: identifying little conversational tropes, like the perfunctory interactions shared by Fred and the mixologist in the season premiere.

First, the standalone sketches: The iPhone bit is pretty clever with its use of slow-mo "emotional time," flashbacks, and hypothetical flashforwards. There's a lot packed in there about the perils of encapsulating so much of one's life into a single, fragile device, and the fear that somewhere, somehow, other humans are having fun without you (also known by the catchy acronym FOMO, or the Fear Of Missing Out). I like the fact that Carrie cheats at pub trivia, and that there's a glancing callback to that later in the episode, but aside from the moment when Fred casually ends their friendship, this sketch didn't exactly get me pumped for the episode to come.

I'm inclined to like "No You Go" more, as I'm inclined to like all of Portlandia's sketches that begin unassumingly before being diced into ever finer chunks as things escalate. There was something about the premise that was familiar though, and some digging revealed this beaut of an insurance ad from 2009. Even the tagline "We're a lot like you: a little different." is eerily on point. Apparently it was part of a run of commercials that sought to "[connect] the Northwest community through humorous and familiar depictions of Northwest residents' traits and behaviors." Knowing as we do the intense rivalry and animosity that exists between Seattle and Portland (as represented in "A Song For Portland"), it should come as no surprise that PEMCO is a Seattle-based insurance provider. So I guess if Seattle gets a 4-way-stop sketch, Portland has to do them one better. (And I'm pretty sure there's another ad in the same mold floating around, but I wasn't able to locate it.) Evaluated on its own terms, "You Go" has some good moments, like when Armisen appears in his own backseat and sniffs "my driver would like you to go first, please," but like all of the standalone bits in this episode—including the feminist bookstore owners (who are wearing out their welcome with me) and "Movie Buff"—it's nothing to write home about.

Better but still familiar is the Jack McBrayer-starring sketch about a "Meano Nobringbags" who causes a scene (and leaves with his arms full) when he forgets to bring a reusable bag to a natural food store—just like Helen from Mike Judge's The Good Family. McBrayer is great as the put-upon straight man here and he gets off some strong, seemingly ad-libbed responses to the uncomprehending checkout cashier. (I'm hoping to find opportunities to use the sentence "I don't have time for this and I find this irresponsible." in my daily life, preferably while leaving in a huff.) Whenever I take that trip to Portland that I've long promised myself, I'm going to be disappointed if food and the ethics of food aren't as front-and-center in Portlanders' lives as this show has led me to believe.

The best material of the episode is reserved for Iris and Spike, who are planning their nuptials but are hamstrung by their credo of "if there's anything you've done, we're not doing it." As Margaret Talbot astutely observed in her New Yorker piece about Portlandia, this is a pair who are positively eaten up with "the narcissism of small differences." Sure, a contrarian streak might net you some magically unorthodox wedding like the one in Rachel Getting Married, but you could also end up with something closer to Iris and Spike's special day, where no one is allowed to sit next to anyone else and ex-girlfriends are summoned to the altar for ritual humiliation.

My two favorite moments of the episode happen back-to-back. After Spike and Iris call the wedding off and decide to divvy up their friends schoolyard style, Spike delivers a bro-hug while whispering a stream of jumbled male-bonding cliches like "you think you're a man and instead you're just a helpless little baby" and "You're a good guy and I'm a good guy and we have to know that, all right?" Then, as the couple finally reunites over their pub-trivia history, Spike does the false modesty bit where he chalks up his knowledge to "me just being an idiot," to which Iris replies, on cue, "but you're not an idiot. You know…like, weird esoteric stuff." These exchanges rang so true and have been delivered in slightly altered forms so many times—without, to my knowledge, anyone commenting on their ubiquity—that they were almost enough for me to chalk this episode up as a win. On balance, though, this is the first disappointment of the season for me, but it's also nothing as ghastly as "Blunderbuss." And anyway, any episode that includes the takedown, "You're a dirty hippie. You do not get punk at all." is worth a peek.

Stray observations:

  • It's cool to see Lance Bangs of filmmaking and being-married-to-Corin Tucker fame in this episode. It makes me wonder, though, if I'm missing lots of cameos by other local notables.