The brand of comedy that Portlandia practices means that it’s a show constantly at risk of being too annoying. It mines the majority of its humor out of people who are frequently selfish, hypocritical, short-sighted, or willfully ignorant, meaning that it’s built a large stable of characters who most sane people wouldn’t want to spend an extended period of time with. The show’s rarely afraid to have fun at their expense, but every so often it feels as if it’s enjoying how awful they can be and how blissfully unaware they are of that reality. This is where the sketch format tends to work in the show’s favor, as it has the ability to pivot away from a character after a couple minutes and move onto the next story, and the odds are good that if one didn’t entertain the next one will.
“TADA” doesn’t pull off that trick, and disappointedly winds up being the first major misfire of season six. After a string of episodes that have been both clever and emotionally rewarding, tonight’s tone is one that doesn’t mesh with what’s come before, full of characters who are designed to be irritating but succeed too well at their intended goal. If you like those characters I suspect this episode will play better for you, but as someone who doesn’t so much of what they wound up doing felt unpleasant to watch.
The first problem is that the runner sketch happens to be all about Portlandia’s most annoying couple, Kath and Dave. It’s possible that other couples like Toni and Candace might hit more specific heights of annoyance, but Kath and Dave are characters deliberately geared to satirize the worst of Portland’s self-righteous traits, the obnoxious desire to stand up and claim recognition for their work. They work better in smaller stories where the crazy can be contained—my favorite of which remains their appearance in “Alexandra” that ended with them tearing a rabbit to pieces as they embraced their inner coyote spirit. Asking them to drive the full run of the episode is the equivalent of adding too much cumin to a recipe, the spiciness they can provide in small doses overwhelmed by a bitter taste.
While things get off to a promising start—Dave and Kath get their hands on Apple Watches and get competitively into building their step count for the day—once the two of them wind up breaking bones on an untrained marathon things quickly go south. Putting Kath in a motorized wheelchair and Dave on crutches turns the two of them into utterly entitled dicks, terrorizing a hostess at a local restaurant and demanding everyone in the restaurant pay attention to them. “Dave, we’re finally marginalized! And people are forced to care,” Kath says at one point, a statement that pretty much says it all. It doesn’t help that they double down on their awfulness by sending them to a meeting of the American Disabilities Act, where they immediately try to take over the entire meeting by demanding privileges that are mostly just further specialized versions of existing ones. (“Ramps!” “We have those.” “I mean I’m talking ramps.”)
This leads the two to create a circumstance where their voices can be heard over everyone else, with the creation of the Temporary American Disabilities Act, a collection of sunburns, Lasik recovery and carpal tunnel syndrome. (“You think we’re going to stand by and let you get judged?” “Just because you play video games?”) The potential in this idea is, again, overwhelmed by Kath and Dave’s insistence on being the center of attention, shouting down any suggestion that they’re not the heads of this new TADA organization. There’s an amusing comeuppance at the end when Kath tries to stand up for her self-appointed brothers and sisters and literally stands up in the process, but it’s too little too late by that point.
The standalone sketches aren’t much better, as they bring back one of Portlandia’s least welcome inhabitants. Armisen’s Joey, introduced in the season three premiere and last seen as the ride-share driver in “Doug Becomes A Feminist,” is one of the few times a character has bombed right out of the gate. His sole joke is that he’s loud and not that bright, and placing him here in the role of law firm intern fails to redeem him from his previous appearances. And if he doesn’t wear out his welcome right away, the sketch goes on for three scenes, spreading his annoyance to the rest of the firm by being incapable of writing down a simple lunch order. There’s no real target and nothing clever about what he’s doing, Joey’s just a loud jerk for the sake of being a loud jerk.
New characters aren’t a confirmed recipe for success this week either. Last week showed Portlandia following Portland’s recent adoption of Lyft and Uber by making Doug a Lyft driver, and this week it shows the reasons why those services take off. Grimm’s Bitsie Tulloch appears as a character who can’t wait for their driver and elects to order a cab from an old-fashioned operation—emphasis on old, given their office makes the Sunshine Cab Company look like a high-tech operation. Brownstein as cab driver is an exemplar of why most people prefer other services, between only a working heater and reading material of torn newspapers, but there’s no character to what she’s doing beyond being sullen and at the end creepy.
There are a few saving graces to “TADA,” one of which being the annual appearance of Bryce and Lisa. As always they’re back with another terrible business idea, rebounding from their taxidermy business being burned to the ground with Science Lab Furniture For Men, which is all about making studio apartments look like the lairs of mad scientists. It’s not as inspired as some of their other projects, but as is to be expected, the way that they sabotage their success and betray how high-strung they are—here dropping beakers they charge $600 for—is always good for a laugh.
Also, the sketch about the silent retreat in Forest Park manages to have a good idea at the center of it. Armisen’s Micah is a guru who’s running a retreat in pursuit of total silence, only for that search to be constantly frustrated. If it’s not Brownstein running through the campsite banging on a bottle, it’s the coughs, twitches, or completely legitimate questions raised by his attendees, moments that build to a gradual madness-inducing onslaught of ambient noise. It builds to a good comedic beat where he dismisses the whole group and winds up chiding himself for the same problems, a penalty for his earlier judgmental attitude. And after how most of “TADA” works—or fails to—his pursuit of total silence makes him seem like the sanest person here.
- This Week In Portland: Nostrana, where Kath and Dave have their disastrous lunch, is a restaurant I would recommend but would steer diners toward their excellent pizza over the entrees. Those may be good, but the pizza is what makes it worth a stop.
- It continues to surprise me there haven’t been more instances of overlap between Grimm and Portlandia, as Tulloch’s appearance tonight only makes the third after with Silas Weir Mitchell’s appearance in “Celery” and Danny Bruno’s appearance in “Getting Away.” You’d think Pacific Northwest synergy would be more present.
- “It’s not sports, it’s kind of smart!”
- “I’d like to order a cab. Can you do that still?”
- “There’s a delicate balance of ignoring us and paying attention to us!”
- “Sir, you are not a sunburn! You’re human.”