The books close on Portlandia’s fifth season with this week’s “Dead Pets.” The episode’s arc—which follows a singular storyline like “The Story of Toni and Candace” (episode 5.01)—is indicative of the season overall: It starts off with a bang and loses a little steam toward the end. But even during its weakest sketches, “Dead Pets” still offers moments of social satire, political commentary and zinging one-liners that make Portlandia one of the more culturally relevant sketch comedies around.
Bryce Shivers (Fred Armisen) and Lisa Eversman (Carrie Brownstein) open the episode with a commercial touting their new-ish taxidermy business. (They introduced it in an earlier episode this season.) Bryce and Lisa have moved beyond putting birds on things and now ask people to invest in their dead pet business. “There’s something for the taxidermy lover of all ages,” Lisa says, as Bryce is seen in the background covered in blood and hack-sawing away. The sequence doesn’t end when the commercial does, however, as the store is vandalized. The “stuffed” animals are taken away and the storefront is set ablaze. It’s a shocker because it’s one of the few times a serious crime happens in Portlandia.
The public demands answers, and it’s up to the Portland Police Department to solve the case. Though they have no leads or evidence, the chief has an idea: “Let’s round up the weirdos. I’m sure one of them did this for some weird ass reason.” In a humorous exchange, the chief brings in a special agent (Brownstein) to help the force learn about “weirdos,” their antisocial tendencies and how they differ from other subgroups, such as dorks.
In the meantime, the city is on edge with the criminals on the loose. Toni (Brownstein) and Candace (Armisen) even install an alarm at their Women and Women First Bookstore. When the technician tests the alarm, the women are disconcerted by its piercing shriek. They ask to record something more personal for the alarm, but he tells them it’s impossible. Toni has a great comeback for the alarm guy: “My body, my voice, my alarm, my choice.” It’s feminist, it’s funny and it’s ridiculous. In other words, it’s perfect Portlandia.
In the mass roundup of weirdos, the police focus in on two Goths (Armisen and Brownstein), who are eventually arrested because they can’t remember their whereabouts on August 12. While the Goths play smaller roles in the episode, much to our disappointment, the news segments allow for a great guest turn by Seth Meyers. He plays Chad Koop, a former weirdo who provides gems of insight like this: “Most weirdos are first generation. It’s a rejection of the ‘normals’ they came from.”
The Goths are put on trial and are defended by another self-declared former weirdo Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman). “Being weird is not a crime,” he says during his opening statement. He also names other weirdos found in history, including Ben Franklin, the first people to try kale and marijuana. Before he can continue with his defense, the trial’s interrupted by a Pussy Riot-like group who claims responsibility for the store fire. They protest by taking over a nearby rooftop for a pop-up music performance and reveal themselves as anti-taxidermy activists.
If the quartet of singers/protesters seem familiar, it’s because they are. They’re the same group we met in the “SeaWorld” episode earlier this season, with Olivia Wilde reprising her role as ecowarrior Brit. The episode goes a little off the rails when Brit takes Toni and Candace hostage, and her parents (also played by Armisen and Brownstein) try and talk Brit into giving herself up. Eventually, Brit’s parents take the blame for the fire themselves, because they’ve “over-parented” and didn’t raise her right.
The sketches toward the end of the episode are salvaged by a news anchor who announces a retraction of sorts: “It wasn’t the weirdos, it was the idiots.” Cue in another appearance by Meyers as a “former idiot,” who explains that idiots likely listen to trance music and are prone to making internet comments with bad grammar. Now there’s the Portlandia we’ve come to love: The show clicks on all cylinders when its themes are politically minded, but still manages to poke fun at American society—and its audience.
Until next year, Portlandia.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.