For all the various catchphrases Portlandia introduced over the last four seasons, the phrase that has the most truth to it is one that Fred Armisen excitedly laid out in the show’s very first sketch: “Portland is the place where young people come to retire.” Both the Portland of the show and the Portland of reality have a reputation as places where the restrictions of adulthood don’t apply, and where it’s possible to keep living life like you’re in your early 20s way past the statute of limitations on such behavior. It’s a Neverland of part-time jobs, affordable rent, and endless bars and concerts; a place where you can stay distracted and surrounded by like-minded individuals for years.
However, as anyone who’s lived that life for long enough knows, eventually there’s a point where it starts to feel unfulfilling. One day you look around and you ask yourself if your life’s going nowhere, deciding you might be happier with a steady paycheck and insurance than working a few shifts when you can. Or you realize that the people you used to hang around with have moved onto graduate school and cohabitation, populating your Facebook feed with new houses and new children that make you wonder what exactly you’re doing with your life. Or, worst of all, you look up from your drink at the local hot spot and suddenly realize that you’ve far exceeded the average age of the patrons, and it’s gone from being laid-back to being sort of pathetic.
“Pull Out King” is one of the first episodes of Portlandia to approach the idea that the series’ characters may have to grow out of their Lost Boys existence. It doesn’t do that with any sort of seriousness or urgency—this is still an episode whose central joke is about linking coitus interruptus with multipurpose furniture—but every one of its sketches in some way revolves around the nature of making adult choices or the consequences of not making them.
Parenthood is one of the most common triggers forcing people to grow up, and that specter looms large when Nina says to Lance she may be pregnant. I’ve admitted previously that Nina and Lance are one of my least favorite Armisen/Brownstein couples, but this is probably the most I’ve liked them in some time. Nina finds a better gear when she’s freaking out as opposed to being self-centered, and Brownstein’s faux masculine voice gets even funnier when he/she’s trying to assert his/her masculinity. And there’s a lot of the latter, as Lance is convinced he can’t get anyone pregnant thanks to his role as “The Pull Out King,” a reputation known to all ex-girlfriends and neighbors and proclaimed by a guitar riff every time he says the title.
Lance takes particular pride in his designation as the Pull Out King, which is why what truly rattles his cage isn’t the idea he may have failed—it’s the fact that there’s a challenger to the throne. And that challenger is none other than beloved guest star Jeff Goldblum. I’ve said before that there’s something about the Portlandia universe that makes Goldblum exponentially more Goldblum, and once again he does not disappoint. Every moment of his appearance is perfectly executed, between the endearingly low-budget structure of his local commercials, the weird Mr. Rogers-esque way he describes his discounts, and his befuddlement when Lance shows up looking for a fight. Most importantly, he proves that he deserves the title by turning the confrontation into a sales pitch, selling Nina and Lance a massive sofa bed with a plan to convert their living room into a bedroom and their bedroom into a nursery.
That nursery turns out to be unnecessary—Nina was dealing with a bad burrito rather than the early stages of pregnancy—but if no seed has been planted in Nina one has been planted in Lance’s brain. He admits he doesn’t want to be the Pull Out King anymore, and even allows himself to get drawn into Nina’s idea of dressing their child up in “little band shirts.” Once again, things don’t get too serious—the action of the sketch quickly moves into fumbling on the awkwardly sized couch, a couple of fart jokes and Lance hitting the floor and saying “I just came!”—but the overall effect is still an odd sense of maturity.
The rest of the episode also approaches the idea of growing up in incremental ways. In the strongest of the standalone sketches, Carrie finds a new boyfriend named Sean Davis, a good-natured tax lawyer who Carrie’s attracted to for the simple fact that he’s a normal guy working a day job. “I actually kind of love it. Being passionate about anything is so sexy to me,” she explains to Fred, who’s currently dating a woman that won’t reveal his name. However, that normality is challenged when he buys a bass guitar and tries it out by the bed—in the most awkward musical interlude since Frank sang Bob Marley to Julia on Smash—and Carrie realizes she has to hold an intervention.
This presents another opportunity for the show to spin through its list of musical contacts. It’s simultaneously hilarious and sweet to see Annie Clark of St. Vincent and Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses encouraging Sean not to follow his musical urges, and argue that his skill set make him a rock star to them. Another show might play this as a cynical motivation to keep Sean doing their taxes or to stop his terrible music, but there’s not a mean-spirited bone in Portlandia. Sean receives so much encouragement that he stages a one-man tax show, and the cheering it receives is entirely genuine.
“Pull Out King” similarly embraces the fun of a low-key life by sending Malcolm and Chris to lead the tailgate for a live A Prairie Home Companion show. This is a simpler sketch that applies the mellow world of public radio to concert tailgating tropes, with spectators excitedly telling stories about prior shows they went to (“You’ll never guess who walked on stage: Terry Gross!”), rocking out to greatest hits of NPR, and feeling superior when security doesn’t confiscate their beverages (it’s yerba mate they smuggled through customs). Here it’s the incongruity that sells that sketch, as well as the fact that Malcolm parties so hard he falls asleep with only 15 minutes to go before the show.
Other sketches explore how growing up can pass you by if you don’t pay attention, although it’s cranked up to usual surreal Portlandia extremes. Armisen’s David receives an email announcing the birth of a friend’s child, only to put off answering it for a while because he wants to deliver the right message. In this case, “a while” turns out to be a decade, as he shows up presenting a rattle to a 10-year-old. “You might as well come to my grave,” the unimpressed youth states. Everyone feels a little guilty for not replying to these messages, and this kid serves as the avatar of that guilt, dressing down David as he weakly asks what he’s been up to for the last 10 years.
And of course, there are those who never had the opportunity to grow up, personified in extreme by a punk fan placed into a coma in 1986 and waking up in present-day Portland. Played by none other than former Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra, he’s the classic man unstuck in time, desperately running through the streets and horrified at the prevalence of yuppies all around him. (In the sketch’s best detail, said yuppies are less upset about being labeled than they are being given the wrong label, preferring to be lumped into groups that make more sense: foodies, yogis, corgis.) He eventually finds shelter with the gutter punks, whose drums prove to be a safe place for the second week in a row. Sure, he’ll probably have to deal with this at some point, but for now, development can remain arrested.
- This Week in Portland: Not too many to speak of, other than the return of Smut as Fred and Carrie’s designated vintage store location.
- Portland Pet Haven Pet of the Week: Rascal, an award-winning King Charles spaniel whose awards are missing and who James neglects in favor of his conviction a bird just flew into their background birdhouse. I will admit these are starting to grow on me as the season progresses.
- I wonder if the Pull Out King has better or worse prices than the Sofa King.
- Re: that live A Prairie Home Companion sketch, I wonder how possible it would be to get the real Garrison Keillor to come by Portlandia for an episode or two. He’d fit right in.
- Malcolm is very proud of his recipes, particularly the Puree Home Comp-Onion. “Don’t steal them from me! Or steal them, pass it on.”
- Annie Clark offers the cautionary tale of Lauryn Hill to Sean. “She’s in jail for tax evasion. Do you think she had a good tax lawyer? “Absolutely not.” “He’s probably playing bass in her band.
- “We could call him Glenn Danzig! Or Glenda Danziga if it’s a girl.”
- “Want to join the braid train?” “Looks more like a circle jerk.”
- “I will put this mustache all over you.”