Portlandia Review: "Squiggleman" (Episode 3.04)
Are nerds cool? No. Not the real ones, anyway. That’s the gist of the opening public service announcement, “The More You Nerd…” on this week’s episode of Portlandia. We couldn’t help but think that that the PSA was directed at the Zooey Dechanels of the world: A hipster in a cute polka-dotted dress and oversized eyeglasses talks to a bartender about her love of comic books and video games; she self-identifies as a nerd. But the guy on the next barstool takes over the spot and teaches the television audience about the differences between a faux nerd and the real deal (which he is). He explains that real nerds have to wear the glasses to see, and that “a real nerd is ashamed to call himself a nerd.” Once again, Portlandia takes aim at pop culture and fires a direct hit. (We love you Zooey, and your adora-dorky persona, but you’re waaaay to cool to be a nerd.)
The PSA was one of the highlights of the episode, which, unfortunately, had several skits that fell flat. What didn’t work for us this week? How about a comedy night at Women & Women First Bookstore that forgot the funny? We love Candice and Toni, but their stand-up acts were really lame, even Toni’s half-hearted attempt at channeling a feminist version of Gallagher. There was DMV fairytale sketch that went on too long and not enough Chloë Sevigny in the episode. The Portland Milk Advisory Board skits, which have been running through each of this season’s episodes, don’t have sting or zing—who cares if they recommend cashew milk or raw cow’s milk? (The Mother’s Son deodorant commercial from earlier this season worked so much better because Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein took it a step further and pitched us a product so natural…it stinks.)
The “Squiggleman” storyline, which connects several of the episode’s skits, has its ups and downs. Parents Brendan and Michelle, who last season were concerned about the type of music in their kid’s school library (aka no Mike + the Mechanics), meet another couple who share the same taste in music for kids. They decide to form a band to counter the inanity from The Wiggles and Raffi, and vow to include things that kids would really appreciate—like a “guitar solo in a Dinosaur Jr. song” to the atonal music of Steve Reisch and Philip Glass. The band—Defiance of Anthropomorphic Sea Mammals—makes its debut, opening for kid musician Squiggleman (Matt Berry of Snuff Box).
The Defiance band doesn’t resonate with the kids (maybe it had to do with Michelle screaming lyrics like “I wanna die” or “Everybody leaves me.”) Squiggleman, however, wows the crowd, though surprisingly, the music morphs from a playful child-friendly set to something that sounds like Barney on acid. Dave and Michelle see the error in their ways, and ask advice from Squiggleman. Though the trio’s interaction is a little predictable, it’s the end skit that pulls everything together. Again borrowing from an earlier sketch, Brendan and Michelle’s latest music wows the very young (but soul-patched) staff at Pitchfork Kids.
In another one of the episode’s funnier sketches (if you love fart humor, which we do), Portlandia delves into the dark side of healthy eating. A couple has lunch at a vegan restaurant and feel the gassy after-effects of eating all those veggies. The couple is told by the waitress that there have been complaints about the flatulence coming from their table. They’re directed to the “Fart Patio” outside, joining a number of other patrons letting loose.
Unlike last week’s episode where nearly everything was tied to Nina’s birthday, this episode turned back to including several unrelated skits. We’re fine with either format (narrative or stand-alone pieces) for the show, just as long as the originality and humor are there. We started to worry about repeated themes and sketches in “Squiggleman,” but then Armisen and Brownstein send us to a Fart Patio, which is so ridiculously over the top and so Portlandia that our worries subside. For now, anyway.