“Brunch Village,” the second-season finale of Portlandia, is a departure from the sketch comedy’s prior episodes. Instead of several loosely connected sketches with a few stand-alone skits in between, the entire show revolves around the hallowed hipster meal—Sunday brunch.
Sometimes, change is good. But in this case, we wish that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein stuck to what worked so well at the beginning of the season, including mixologists, allergy pride parade participants, Battlestar Galactica references and Eddie Vedder.
This week’s episode opens with our not-so-favorite middle-aged couple, Peter and Nance, reading about a new brunch hotspot, Fisherman’s Porch, in the Sunday paper. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, they head out early to beat the crowd.
At the same time, the Mayor of Portland (Kyle MacLachlan) calls up Fred and asks him and Carrie to brunch at—6:30 in the morning. The Mayor’s ready to go with his bike, helmet and suit at the ready, so he tells the sleepyheads to meet him there at 9 a.m.
When we next see Peter and Nance, the brunch line has stretched down the block, reminiscent of queuing up for Apple product launches or waiting for the gates to open at a H.O.R.D.E. festival. There are vendors selling water bottles for $6 a pop and parking spaces going for a 20 spot. We see some familiar faces in the brunch line, including Ronald Moore of the BSG-themed “One Moore Episode” and the wedding planner from “Cool Wedding.”
Ed Begly Jr. makes an appearance as a frustrated restaurant owner invites the people in line to try his “cup of joe” and a “side of dough” specials for 99 cents and $1.99 respectively. No takers. They’d rather wait hours for brunch (and we all know people who do that, but we don’t get it).
In order to entice customers, he changes clothes (from a white soda jerk outfit to a plaid shirt) and musses up his hair to blend into the crowd better. He corrals Fred and Carrie (still waiting on the Mayor, who’s traveling by bike and kayak) into his restaurant. They think of polite ways to leave because they’re sure Fisherman’s Porch is the restaurant the Mayor meant.
Toni (Brownstein) and Candace (Armisen) watch as the line grows in front of their store, Women & Women First, and feel threatened by the crowd. “Our customers need a safe passage,” Toni laments. “This is no longer a safe space for women.”
We love how Candace has a thing about spreading gasoline around when she’s pissed. She also threatens the loiterers with spitting hot tea into their mouths, even evoking one of our favorite Bush-isms, “Burn me once with tea, shame on me. Burn you twice in your own mouth, shame on everyone involved.”
Yes, we know it doesn’t make sense, but it made us laugh, and that’s what Portlandia has always been about: Laughing at the absurd side of life from a politically incorrect, bourgeois perspective.
The scenes with Toni and Candace, however, proved to be one of the few truly funny highlights of the episode.
Nance gets irritated with Peter’s indecisiveness about what to have for brunch; he’s torn between the house special marionberry pancakes and about a half-dozen other items on the menu. (“I’m not indecisive, I just can decide,” he whines.) She walks to the car to get her jacket, but when she tries to rejoin Peter in line, the crowd turns on her as a line cutter and she’s whisked away by a couple of bouncers to South of Burnside, which doesn’t look like a great area, in Portlandia, anyway.
In a weird twist, Nance is taken to a post-apocalyptic world led by Tim Robbins, doing a character that’s sort of a cross between Ozzy Osbourne and Johnny Depp’s Keith Richards impersonation in Pirates of the Caribbean. Nance is scared and confused, even more so when he asks her to speak and be silent at the same time. He clarifies: “Explain yourself in a silent voice, using words.” The SoBurn leader threatens Carrie with punishment for her line indiscretion, eating a “chemical stew” brunch: a frosted Pop Tart.
The episode ends with Peter growing a pair and rescuing Nance from the dreaded pirate Robbins before she takes a bite out of the frosted chemical stew. His timing is impeccable: Their table is finally ready for brunch, and they crowdsurf to the front of the line. He gets the marionberry pancakes, after all, and they turned out to be as good as the hype.
Unfortunately, this final episode of Portlandia wasn’t.
While we guffawed at the concert-like atmosphere of the new Sunday brunch place, we found few laughs amongst the waiting crowd. This episode could have taken full advantage of foodie culture and the ridiculous things people do to get into a hot restaurant. Where was the music snobbery of Michelle and Brendan (Grover’s parents) when you needed them? They could have debated the strengths and weaknesses of the marionberry topping over huckleberry or bothering the waitress for gluten-free buckwheat pancakes. Instead, we get a warmed-over episode of mostly mediocre characters and storylines.
Perhaps this year’s extra episodes—growing from six to 10—wore the creative team out. We can only hope that if Portlandia gets renewed for a third season, that they get back to basics and mercilessly poke fun of the designer T-shirt-wearing, organic-food eating, Bon Iver-listening set.