A touch of Nelson before the madness

NICK WARD
Last updated 13:58 31/01/2013
Mohua Sun
COLIN SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
STARS OF THE SHOW: The brains behind Portlandia, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen.

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REVIEW:  

Portlandia TV3, Sundays, round midnight

Some of the best shows are the ones that make us feel a tad nostalgic. Portlandia does that for me.

It's quirky and mickey-taking and downright weird, which also appeals, but even though I've never been within cooee of Portland, Oregon, it seems strangely familiar.

Portland has become America's hipster capital, to such a degree that it was recently parodied by The Simpsons. It rains a lot, and it doesn't have cool beaches, but it's the place to go if you want to be artistic and different (ambition optional). It's "where young people go to retire" and "the dream of the 90s is alive" - where being a diabolo busker is a valid career option, and all the hot girls wear glasses.

Portlandia is the comedy brainchild of Fred Armisen, formerly of Saturday Night Live, and Carrie Brownstein, formerly of grunge girls Sleatter-Kinney, and they skewer artists, musicians, craft beer-quaffing techheads, cycling supremacists, feminist bookshop owners and freegans. They've also roped in guest stars like Kyle McLachlan as the mayor (with Portland's real, openly gay mayor as his assistant), and Steve Buscemi as an unfortunate bookshop customer.

It's a world where famous indie musicians clean your house, and the mayor bunks work so he can play in a reggae band, but also where one-upmanship about your reading choices can be fatal, and where a couple's attempts to spice up their love life see them eaten by a cardboard box. Mostly, Portlandia targets the preciousness of urban subcultures and the organically earnest, from the middle classes to those scratching a living from dreamcatchers and the dole.

And that's where the nostalgia kicks in, because it looks like a grown-up version of what Nelson used to have a lot more of - the days of Zippy's and the Watchtower and impromptu mini-raves and hippieish (or at least vegetarian) flats in run-down inner-city villas, before property market madness and the rising cost of living pushed a lot of the young and the cool away. More people ride bicycles and grow their own veges nowadays, but it's not the same. I suppose that's what you get when you have great beaches and everything else.

Portlandia is smart enough to be an ironic reflection of a phenomenon rather than an earnest product of it - one thread of its humour is a popular, trendy place becoming "played out" and "over". With a third series on the way, Portland apparently isn't "over" yet.

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If that isn't your cup of freetrade organic tea, try the late-night sitcoms on Choice (on Freeview), starting on Mondays with Mongrels, a Meet the Feebles-type show about the animals that live behind a London pub. The puppet humour is very, very black, including a fair bit of nature red in tooth and claw - and disease.

Avoid Tuesday's offering, The Persuasionists, a grating ad agency sitcom featuring our own Jarred Christmas. Wednesday has Outland, an Aussie show about gay science fiction fans - if you're not into either strain of that premise, there may not be much that will appeal.

Thursday has a repeat run of my favourite, Laid, a great Aussie cringe comedy about a socially awkward young lady who discovers that all the guys she's ever slept with are dying, in sudden and strange ways. And then she gets drunk and bonks her best friend's ex. Who said Aussies have an easygoing attitude towards sex?

- © Fairfax NZ News

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