After a couple of mediocre offerings, Portlandia comes roaring back this week with an episode built around a parody of an infomercial. It’s a brilliant concept. Instead of inserting random commercials in between sketches, this week in “Weirdo Beach,” the commercials become the centerpiece. Parodying the Time Life Music series and countless other CD compilations, the show opens on two new characters Gordon Katz (Fred Armisen) and Katya Gordon (Carrie Brownstein)—also known as the Bwow Band (the first “b” is nearly silent).
Sitting on a country-western themed set, Gordon tools around on the slide guitar while he and Katya pitch their wares. They’ve created a whole new genre of music that’s “twangy,” “stripped down and “sensual.” The Bwow Band specializes in “premium cable title sequence music,” and it’s an apt title because it’s perfect, hilarious and true. Think of some of your favorite shows on HBO, Showtime and streaming services, and then Google the title songs. Do you hear a familiar theme running through The Jinx, Ray Donovan, Breaking Bad, True Detective et al? Well thank the Bwow Band. The episode cuts to a gauzy, sepia-toned concert shot of the band performing their True Blood theme song. (In reality, the song’s performed by Jace Everett.) Katya comments: “I felt like I just got gang banged by vampires…” Okay then. Gordon admits, “We pretty much use the same instruments for every show,” while Katya adds, “Yeah, it all happens in Pro Tools.” The Bwow Band’s music is created to amplify the grittiness of the shows. The duo return later in the episode to showcase music from shows that have never aired: Snakeskin Dentures, Treecutters, The Crooked Cop Who Loved to Drink, Memphis Darkness, Drunk Cop, among many others.
The “commerical” airs before Portlandia’s own title sequence, which changes this week to mimic the aforementioned shows. It’s a great little touch. We also noticed that the episode was directed by Daniel Gray Longino, marking one of the few episodes in six seasons not directed by co-creator Jonathan Krisel. (He might have been a little busy with creating the new FX series Baskets with Zach Galifianakis and Louis C.K.) It’s interesting to note that our other favorite episode of the season so far was “Pickathon,” directed by Bill Benz, and maybe the different perspectives added an extra spark to the particular episode.
The episode’s title, “Weirdo Beach,” refers to our favorite Goths (Brownstein and Armisen) who head to the beach for the day. It’s one of the few places where Goths still have a chance at standing out, she says. Along the way, the Goths run into some car (hearse) trouble as it breaks down, and they’re forced to rent a car. The perky customer service rep holds her own against Brownstein and Armisen, countering their deep, dark thoughts with a Mary Poppins-like, can do attitude.
When the Goths get to the beach, they scare their fellow beachgoers and set up their faux graveyard sitting area. Vince (Armisen) is uncomfortable in his heavy black coat, and the Romanian guy sitting next to him, Radu (Glenn Danzig)—himself in a black shirt and shorts with combat boots—offers to show beach attire options for people like Vince. “Are you familiar with…Billabong? Kind of fratty, but it pops,” Radu says in a thick Romanian accent. “Sometimes to have a good time, you have to dress a little lame.” Danzig is hysterical as he introduces Vince to other popular clothing lines like Quicksilver, Pacsun and Hurley.
This week, Portlandia reverts back to its old format, inserting standalone sketches in the middle of the episode. It’s a welcome change of pace from the more narrative structure of the prior episodes. In this sketch, Brownstein and Armisen are hawking their company’s latest product at a car show. Since there are just too many options with satellite radio and bluetooth, they want to simply the driving life with the “one CD that’s been in your car for the last 10 years.” Armisen and Brownstein rattle off a list of oh-so-familiar titles. Who didn’t leave the Indigo Girls, Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish or the B52s Cosmic Thing, REM’s Automatic for the People, etc., stuck in the CD player back in the ‘90s? (We’re guilty of a few.) They demonstrate their product on the convention floor, but there’s one thing they forgot to take in account—newer models don’t have CD players. The sketch hits on all cylinders because it riffs on something that Gen Xers know well, then follows up with a punchline that resonates with millennials, who may have never owned a CD and probably wouldn’t have the CD player option in the car. The kicker: They roll out a record player after the CD fail—and the record skips.
One of the few misses of the episode was a “TSA Red Carpet” sketch that shows what’s offered to those who sign up for the service—a step above the TSA pre-check line. It was a random sketch that critiques the elitism of paying to forgo the security line, with Armisen and Brownstein selling upgrades to check in, but the jokes fell flat. For example, changing a customer’s name to “Danza Ms. Banana” didn’t hit the mark for us. At all.
One of the odder and more fascinating sketches was performed completely in sign language (at least we think it was ASL) and featured Armisen trying to keep tabs on his Apple charger. He’s pissed that his co-workers, especially Bruce (guest Moshe Kasher), keep borrowing his charger without returning it, something many of us can relate to. While the sketch was only mildly amusing, it showed that six seasons in, Portlandia’s still surprising us, proving that they’re still willing to take the chances—whether the jokes fly or not.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.