A visit to the set of the Carrie Brownstein-Fred Armisen comedy, which airs again on IFC on Thursday, Jan. 21, with a signature bit about music-festival fans.
PORTLAND — With the possible exception of encouraging more Portland tourism, the stars of IFC’s “Portlandia” (new season premieres 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21) chafe at the suggestion that their show changed Portland.
“I read something in [Portland alternative weekly] Willamette Week that said the date Portland changed was when we did our ‘Dream of the ’90s’ sketch,” “Portlandia” star Carrie Brownstein said during a September set visit, “ … people wouldn’t have understood the ‘Dream of the ’90s’ sketch if it hadn’t already existed.”
But TV can influence perception. IFC president Jennifer Caserta experienced that in a conversation with her driver after arriving in Portland to visit the “Portlandia” set in September.
‘Portlandia:’ 10 p.m. Thursdays, IFC.
“He said Portland’s at this tipping point with people who want to keep Portland the way it was and others who want it to go in this other direction, and he referenced Seattle,” she said. “He was suggesting that the way Seattle had a magnifying glass over it because of tech companies coming in and it had become the ‘it’ place to work and move to as opposed to a place for the people who had been settled there for a while, who are saying, ‘Stay out of my city.’
“I said to him, ‘That’s Brooklyn in New York. We have similar things happen.’ ”
On the set that day, “Portlandia” stars Fred Armisen and Brownstein drove in circles, filming take after take of the same scene. The stars were seated in a Subaru, towed by a pickup carrying production crew, pretending to drive as they were pulled around the same blocks of a Northeast Portland neighborhood.
Each take got a little longer as the pair added more dialogue to a scenario that finds their Fred and Carrie characters looking for excuses to blow off a commitment to friends when they get a chance to go to dinner with comic Louis C.K.
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In unison they hit on the perfect excuse: “Family emergency!”
“It’s like society’s get-out-of-jail-free card!” Brownstein said.
In a subsequent take, the conversation turns to how to ditch the original commitment (phone call or text?). In a take after that, the pair spin out all the possible texting scenarios.
“Send a little emoji of a police siren,” Brownstein suggested.
“I could pretend to mis-text, like I’m texting the doctor, and then say, ‘Oh, that’s not for you,’ so it seems like I’m in the middle of a drama,” Armisen added. “ ‘Can you give us directions to the morgue, please?’ ”
Brownstein said adding more dialogue through improvisation is typical for “Portlandia.”
“You usually start with the script and work out in concentric circles and each outer layer becomes more experimental,” she said after completing the scene. “We actually follow the script now more than we ever have.”
“Portlandia” morphed from a sketch-comedy show early in its run to a more narrative-driven, character-focused comedy. Armisen said that this season, like last year, most of the episodes will follow a single story.
The season starts with “Pickathon,” a half-hour devoted to how fans interact with a music festival, whether they’re “boy-crazy” girls (Brownstein and guest star Natasha Lyonne) chasing a dude with a man bun or a pair of aging music fans who prefer to attend the festival virtually via video footage collected by their personal drone.
IFC renewed “Portlandia” through a seventh season to air in 2017, and Armisen and Brownstein both said they envision a final, eighth season beyond that.
Although it’s a relatively small show compared to TV’s biggest hits, “Portlandia” has touched a nerve that makes it relatable to a mainstream audience beyond the Pacific Northwest (see: Armisen and Brownstein starring in Old Navy’s holiday commercials last month).
“I don’t really think of it as a show about Portland,” Brownstein said. “I think of it as a show set in a mindset that could be anywhere. Almost anywhere you travel there are pockets of preciousness and people trying to live a certain way by certain progressive ideals and being thwarted by their own fastidiousness.”