“Celery” is an appropriate title for this week’s Portlandia because—just like its namesake veggie—the episode was just “meh.” The IFC sketch comedy clicked on all cylinders with last week’s “Ecoterrorists,” striking the right balance between humor and social commentary. “Celery,” however, keeps the social introspection, but leaves out the laughs.
The show at least starts off strongly with Portlandia’s pre-credits “call center” sketch. Carrie and Fred sport Afros and field 911 calls when Carrie gets a call (we think that’s Ronald D. Moore from Portlandia’s great “One Moore Episode”) reporting that there’s “blood everywhere.” Through a series of random questions, she ascertains that there were beets in his salad. “It’s not blood; it’s beets.”
Carrie and Fred continue to attribute all of Portland’s ailments to beets. Even when Portlandia guest star Jeff Goldblum calls in to report his car accident, beets are blamed. The payoff’s worth it as the camera reveals Goldblum’s crashed his car into a beet truck. “Sir, it’s always beets,” Carrie says smugly.
The produce theme continues throughout the show, but with less success. The main story, featuring guest star Steve Buscemi, is Portlandia noir, borrowing from Glengarry Glen Ross and The Boiler Room. Buscemi plays a down-on-his-luck celery salesman who can’t get buyers and eaters as excited about celery as, say, trendier items like brussel sprouts or kale.
Under a lot of pressure, he promises his company “new and improved celery” and that he’ll make celery go “viral.” When Buscemi tells Fred, the top salesman and beet rep, that he’s hoping to partner with raisins to make celery more palatable, Fred snaps, “What is it, 1955?” He then gives Buscemi a hot tip: partner with bacon.
The new partnership comes with a price. Buscemi must give the creepy bacon guy (also played by Armisen) one night with his wife (Brownstein) a la Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson in Indecent Proposal. That his wife’s only too eager to help her husband turns out to be one of the few lighter moments in this extended sketch. While Buscemi is great as the desperate salesman, there aren’t many laughs after the initial jokes about the “in” veggies. The big reveal at the end—about who’s really pulling the strings behind the bacon-veggie pairing trend (and it’s not big pharma)—is mildly amusing, but not as funny as, well, beet emergencies.
The episode’s secondary sketches don’t fare much better. A woman who walks into a new restaurant for a pastrami sandwich is burdened by the overly complicated pen-and-paper-email ordering system. We had a sense of deja vu watching this skit as it reminds us too much of earlier Portlandia restaurant and bar-related sketches. (Dipping from the same joke well too many times runs it dry, so hopefully this trend doesn’t continue.)
The only other sketch even worth mentioning is Carrie declaring “social bankruptcy.” Like many of us, she’s overwhelmed with email, texts, social media and chats and resorts to liking things on Facebook while brushing her teeth. In a great exchange with a social banker—the droll Kumail Nanjiani (“We do offer counseling to help you sort of get out of debt.”)—Carrie opts for the “nuclear option” in which all email, voicemail and social media followers and accounts will be deleted.
Carrie’s finally free! She has time to get massages, acupuncture and … read books! But because she’s erased her digital footprint to the point where she doesn’t even come up in a Google search, no one can remember or recognize her in real life. This sketch was both hilarious and horrifying because it rings true for many of us who are addicted to technology.
Despite the great guest turns, we weren’t all that crazy about “Celery.” Even the bacon pairing couldn’t make this episode better.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.