Portlandia Review: "Cops Redesign" (Episode 2.05)
Portlandia, IFC’s sketch comedy show that stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, continues to keep things fresh each week when tackling the same subject matter: the ups and downs of hipster living. The latest episode, “Cops Redesign,” threw in a few surprises—a music video and an animation segment among them—keeping the audience on its toes.
The show’s humor can be both subtle and over-the-top (sometimes at once), and we loved every second of it in this episode.
“Cops Redesign” opens with a music video woven into the scene. Jason in LA (Armisen) tells his neighbor (Brownstein) that “the dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland.” No, he’s not talking about the grunge-listening, flannel shirt-wearing 1990s—but the 1890s.
“Remember the 1890s when the economy was in a tailspin?” Jason asks. “ Unwashed young men roamed the streets looking for work and people turned their backs on huge corporate monopolies and supported local businesses.” (Sound familiar?)
He goes on to describe a place where people brew their own beer, knit and make their own clothes, cure their own meats, shave with straight razors, grow out their mutton chops and handlebar mustaches, and choose to wear suspenders and eye glasses in lieu of belts and contact lenses.
“It’s as if the 20th century never happened in Portland,” she responds.
The accompanying images fit the moody pop tune perfectly. Men with beards, and others in one-piece bathing suits and handlebar mustaches, flex their muscles and eat sausages while deadpanning the camera. They sing about life in the 1890s and about sausage parties. And though Armisen looks more like a rabbi than a hipster, we still had to laugh because most of the dudes in the scene do look like our local mixologists.
Another great sketch re-introduced us to overbearing hipster parents Brendan and Michelle. During a PTA meeting, Brendan rails against the evils of certain materials in the school library. The vinyl music collection, he fears, “leaves a lot to be desired.” Michelle adds, “There are specific albums that absolutely should be banned from this preschool…like Mike + The Mechanics.”
Though most parents agree, one couple actually likes the band, pointing to the single “The Living Years” as a “prime example of mid-’80s pop.” Michelle warns, “What it is, is a gateway to other mediocre pop music.” The scene continues with the hipster parents suggesting a playlist that includes Harry Nilsson, some Krautrock and Noid, making fun of those who don’t know the artists or genres. They also chastise others—including the teacher—who don’t know Clash songs before “Rock the Casbah.” What tunes their children hear now will affect the rest of their lives, they warn.
Yes, it’s a silly skit, but we—and probably many Paste readers—wholeheartedly agree.
Another big surprise of the show was an animated segment that featured rats planning their raid on a new “zero-packing grocery store” (a store that sells its items in bulk and bins without any paper or plastic wrappings). But these aren’t ordinary rats, mind you. They are modern rats, complete with hats, facial hair, glasses and cell phones.
They discuss their plan of attack; while two of the rats want to “go in, forage and gather and gorge later,” the other rat (Armisen) wants to dive right in. He gets caught, but luckily, there are no traps or poison in the new store—he just gets swept out the old-fashioned way.
The “Cops Redesign” title refers to Portland’s mayor (Kyle MacLachlan) and assistant (real Portland Mayor Sam Adams) seeking out Carrie and Fred’s help with a PR campaign for the city’s police force. The department had been criticized most recently for interrupting a “[Star] Trek in the Park” performance. To help re-brand the po-po’s image, Carrie and Fred suggest a whole new wardrobe for the men and women in blue.
They organize a fashion show for the police chief with totally inappropriate uniforms. “These clothes will get you arrested—and are arresting,” Carrie announces. The chief isn’t pleased and deputizes the duo to go out and patrol the city in the new uniforms. When they step out of the police cruiser to settle a noise complaint at a skate park, they look like a mashup between Robocop and dancers in Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” video. The scene with the skaters devolves into a madcap Keystone Cops homage.
“Cops Redesign” also featured guest turns by St. Vincent and Sean Hayes (Will and Grace) in other skits. They, like Maclachan and Adams, were good in their scenes, but really served as second bananas to Armisen and Brownstein. We’re not saying that’s a bad thing—it’s just that this episode of Portlandia was top-notch with the main stars alone. The guest appearances were like adding the proverbial wild-foraged cherry to an artisanal salted caramel sundae: a delicious extra, but not really necessary.