Portlandia’s third episode this season continued Carrie’s adventures into (possible) motherhood and Fred’s desire to find a hipper home, but ultimately “Shville” was a disappointing outing for Armisen, Brownstein and company. Many of the jokes, including the episode’s centerpiece song, fell flat. As in last week’s episode, Fred and Carrie were set off on their own adventures only to be brought together at the end. The odd chemistry between Brownstein and Armisen is what makes the show, so if you separate them, those scenes need to be extra satirical, filled with biting social commentary or just flat-out funny (like Carrie’s visit to the OB-GYN last week). Those elements were all missing from “Shville.”
One of the few real laughs of the episode came from the opening sex scene. Fred and Carrie, who agreed to have a baby together, engage in the most so-not-sexy way possible. They forgo the kissing and foreplay (not counting Fred’s arousal through a New Yorker article that Carrie summarizes), and instead coach each other in the mechanics of moves. While still dressed up top, they engage in sex below the covers, but Fred finishes on Carrie’s stomach—twice. They re-think the idea of having a baby with each other, and Carrie goes back to considering using the Mayor’s (Kyle MacLachlan) sperm, which is still in her fridge. Thankfully, the Portlandia team handled the sex between friends hilariously because we think that watching Fred and Carrie do it would be as uncomfortable as walking in on our parents.
While Carrie tries to figure out her motherhood dilemma, Fred visits his old guidance counselor (played by Henry Cottrell aka Ron Moore) for advice. “I haven’t done anything with my life but [go] gray,” he says. Looking through the options, Fred lands on the idea of moving to a newer city. What other city is just as cool as Portland? Austin, of course. And, it’s a proven fact that when people leave town for a town like Austin, they automatically earn the cool cred. Fred asks, though, if he has to apply to get into the city, and we had to laugh at the question because we’d guess that most Austin residents agree with the sentiment (especially in March for SXSW). Once Fred moves to Austin, he’s greeted by the Mayor (also MacLachlan) with a gift bag and a an old industrial video explaining where all the hip neighborhoods are (basically the ones that are baby carriage- and cat free).
Fred’s not quite satisfied with his new stomping grounds, so he looks for other cities on the verge, and proceeds to move to Nashville, Asheville and then, finally, Shville. We learn that Shville is the “end of the line for drifters and wanderers” since it’s the biggest move of all: abroad. Expats are like off the charts on the coolness scale, so Fred hops on a viking/pirate rowboat with fellow travelers. They bust out into “The Expat Shanty,” but the song is no “Dream of the ‘90s.” Fred learns that once people leave the country, they never come back. The thought of leaving Portland behind forever is too much to bear, and he jumps ship.
Back in Portland, Carrie’s adventure with the Mayor is far less entertaining than Fred’s. She’s surprised by the arrival of some of the Mayor’s grown adult children at her doorstep, including Armisen and Alia Shawkat. These “kids” teach Carrie about motherhood and want to be adopted by her. She hesitates at first, for three reasons: They’re adults, they’re annoying and they constantly go through her orange juice in the fridge. Even the hip hop dance break that the kids perform can’t really save the storyline.
The only good to come from her experience with the Mayor’s kids is that Carrie realizes that maybe she’s not meant to be a mother. It’s a good message to share with women who stress about the ticking of the biological clocks, but don’t feel the call to motherhood. The episode ends with Mitchell Hurwitz (creator of Arrested Development) returning as Carrie’s OB-GYN. He’s ready to preside over a sort of ceremony for Carrie, who’s wearing a white dress and standing in front of a crowd. When Fred shows up, he asks if she’s getting married…but nope. It’s a ceremony to get her tubes tied. Of course, it is. That’s the perfect Portlandia twist. It’s too bad that between the end scene and the opening sex-not-sexy scenes, there was little to cheer about in between.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.