As Portlandia nears its midseason point, Fred and Carrie have locked into a sketch comedy groove; week-in and week-out, the show has achieved a hilarious consistency. This week's episode, "Grover," is no exception. And now that we're in the thick of the second season, comedy nerds can begin to ask the question, How does Portlandia stack up against the classic sketch revues of the past 25 years (Mr. Show with Bob and David, The State, Kids in the Hall, Chappelle's Show and Upright Citizens Brigade)?
In this week's cold open sketch, "DJ Night," Fred and Carrie offer up what might become the series' signature sketch. "DJ Night" presents a nightmarish reality, where everyone Fred and Carrie encounter on the streets of Portland invites them to his or her DJ gig. The heightening of the sketch mirrors the structure of a Twilight Zone episode, as Fred and Carrie become increasingly horrified when their bank teller slips them a flier to his gig (which reads: "DJ Direct Deposit -- Spinning Money Sounds and Cash Beats"). When Carrie's mom also turns out to be a DJ, they attempt to escape from Portland by dashing through a post-apocalyptic, David Lynch-ian alley, where they run through a gauntlet of DJs. The button on the scene is a well-earned payoff. I won't give it away...just watch it for crying out loud:
The episode doesn't let up after the instantly iconic opening sketch. The title sketch, "Grover," was probably the strongest runner in the series to-date. In the bit, Fred and Carrie play Brendan and Michelle Marston, who are aiming to get their son Grover into the highly competitive Shooting Star Preschool. In the first beat at the top of the episode, Brendan and Michelle talk to their extremely disinterested toddler about the importance of getting into the preschool. In the second beat, they meet with the preschool teacher, and show a DVD highlighting all of Grover's impressive attributes. I'm sure that once the Portlandia season 2 DVD comes out, that clip will be a very popular special feature. The runner takes a wild left turn at the end of the episode, with Grover being admitted to the preschool, and Michelle and Brendan celebrating by immediately having sex. It was a startling and hilarious move; Portlandia excels when Fred and Carrie fearlessly heighten their sketches to absurd levels.
Despite two classic sketches in one episode, the rest of "Grover" was slightly flatter than this season's previous offerings, with the exception of a scavenger hunt sketch where Fred plays Garmin, a tiny man in a satin Sgt. Pepper jacket whose ridiculous (and lengthy) catchphrase is: "I'm a little guy. My hands are little. My features are small. I'm a little guy. But the fun part about Portlandia is that even when the sketches don't hit, the unflagging energy of the show makes it endlessly entertaining to watch. For that reason alone, the show is earning its sketch comedy stripes and should be considered an equal with classics like Mr. Show and Kids in the Hall.
Download "Grover" from iTunes here!
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