After an off episode with last week’s “Cool Wedding,” our favorite Oregon-based TV series Portlandia returns in good form with “Grover,” taking on current trends like doggie parks, scavenger hunts and over-achieving parents, all while satirizing our #firstworldproblems.
The show opens with a great skit that riffs on DJ culture and tips its hat to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are in a record store with Fred shopping for Muddy Waters CDs, to which Carrie casually advises, “Just get a ‘Best of’...it doesn’t matter.” (We’d bet a few of our Paste readers ushered a collective groan with that line.)
While still in the record store, they’re invited to a DJ night by DJ Eleanor, a dowdy woman just starting her career on the 1s and 2s. At the bank, they’re invited to their teller’s DJ night, where he spins rockabilly, hillbilly and psychobilly under the name DJ Direct Depo$it. They’re chased by friends, restaurant workers, homeless people and hordes of other wannabes, looking to hand out their leaflets and fliers.
Seeking refuge at Carrie’s mom’s house, they’re shocked to learn that mom has been turned into DJ Mom: Mother of Metal. In the following chase scene, the zombies are replaced by DJs. In lieu of the scary music soundtrack? Dubstep. These are the subtle, but hilarious touches that were missing from last week’s episode.
Other Portlandia sketches revealed that the DMV’s “on hold” music is played by live musicians, and that little people (not kids, mind you) can be a great team asset when on scavenger hunt assignments. That latter skit didn’t work for us, but that might be our own bias against city scavenger hunts.
The episode also included two dog-related sketches, one of which fared better than the other. In the first, Dave and Kath are annoying doggie parents who don’t endear themselves to other families (or viewers, for that matter) at the local dog park. They mark off territory for their dog, hold a photo shoot in the middle of the park and ask other dog owners to whisper when they say the word “water” or anything liquid-related because their dog is a tsunami survivor. The scene’s resolution—abandoning the dog at the park—didn’t make sense and wasn’t funny.
The better dog sketch focused on two panhandlers who realize they can earn more money when they beg with a dog. They get even more cash when they switch a big dog with a puppy, and figure out that the smaller the pet, the bigger the payday. So they whip out the small guns: first, a goldfish, then an amoeba. (They have a microscope set up for donors to view the single-celled organism.)
One of the best stories of “Grover” is something that most of us with children or friends with kids can relate to: How to get the offspring into the Ivy League for the potty training set.
The episode’s title refers to 4-year-old son of overachieving parents Brendan and Michelle, who lecture their son on the importance of getting into the “right” preschool. They don’t want to see him in public school with the riff raff (though they also tell him to never judge people).
Without missing a beat, Michelle moves onto the subject of picking the right college. (God forbid Grover slums at the local community college.) “My sister went to community college and we haven’t talked to her in 10 years,” she tells her disinterested son. Brendan adds, “She’s dumb as hell.”
At the interview at the pre-school, things move from the ridiculous to the sublime: Grover presents the teacher with his DVD reel, a polished tribute video where Brendan and Michelle extol the virtues of their introverted son. In the video, Mom recounts the story of how Grover kept saying “da-da…” and they thought his first word would be “daddy.” It turned out to be “Daedalus.” Adds Mommy, “[He] taught us about the Icarus myth.” Riiiight.
We won’t spoil whether Grover gets into the school or not, but the skit devolves—with Brendan and Michelle getting frisky and eventually naked in front of the kid (who hasn’t said more than two words throughout the episode). With parents like that, it’s safe to say that whether the kid ends up at Columbia or community college, he’s going to need lots of therapy.
The big difference between this week and last? The characters weren’t half as annoying as Spike and Iris—the too-cool-for-school couple—or the mailman-slash-film snob that equates a love of German Expressionist film with the marks of a true film buff. At least in “Grover,” many of the characters played by Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen are likable, and when they aren’t, we can at least laugh at their foibles.