While we’re not always fond of Portlandia’s opening sketches, this week’s was a winner as Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein tackled a topic du jour—National Coming Out Day—and added witty wordplay to elicit more than a few laughs. In a quasi-PSA, the characters Fred and Carrie help people select the best possible gender identity by introducing a few new labels. Our favorites include Tom (Armisen), who self-identifies as a “hetero-plausible”; Mary (Brownstein), a “homo-nextual,” who can’t wait to break up with the guy she’s dating to start seeing women; and the “hobo-sexual” who’s only turned on by…hobos.
It was a perfect setup for the episode, “Doug Becomes a Feminist,” with its two main storylines addressing themes of sex, power and identity (in a Portlandia way, naturally). In the titular sketch, Doug, an unemployed man-child-slacker, stays home and reads Game of Thrones books while his wife Claire heads to the office. When he shows their housekeeper how to fold one of Claire’s sweaters, she tells him in broken English, “You are very feminist.” Although she meant “feminine,” Doug proudly takes up the mantle of “male feminist,” but let’s just say his ideology doesn’t exactly align with Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign.
When Claire gets home, he confesses that he was starting to feel terrible that he wasn’t working or doing more at home, but because of this newfound feminism, “I’m enabling you to be the breadwinner…I’m subverting the patriarchy.” Claire doesn’t exactly agree, but that doesn’t stop Doug from joining a male feminist group, burning her bras or wearing T-shirts that reads, “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History.” When she asks him if he wants to have sex, he first asks, “Do you feel safe?” It’s totally acceptable, until he changes the mood quickly by trying to get a “soft on.” With the exception of the male feminist group scenes, the Doug and Claire sketches were highly relevant, which make them all the more humorous.
The episode also features Frances Ha actress Greta Gerwig in a meta-story as an actress about to film a movie in Portland. She wanders into the Women & Women First Bookstore and asks Toni and Candace for help in fleshing out her character. “I’m playing a really strong woman with strong convictions…like a feminist.” Candace (Armisen) immediately picks apart that statement: “[Is she] ‘like a feminist’? Or a feminist?” Gerwig then reveals that her character’s also a mermaid, and that fact sets off Toni (Brownstein): “Is she sweeping the ocean floor?!”
Once they warm up to Greta, Toni and Candace offer notes on the Mermaid Spring script, including changing her character’s name from “Millicent” to “Militant.” The finished film is ridiculous—but awesome. Let’s just say this bong-smoking, pizza-eating mermaid throws major shade (and semi-automatic firepower) when Daddy Poseidon tries to bring her back to the ocean.
As usual with Portlandia and most sketch comedies, there are other skits that hit the skids. This week’s misfire belongs to the ride-sharing couple Sandra and Joey, on a road-trip from Portland to Seattle. Joey is an annoying, chatty driver, who’s drives Sandra (and us) batty. As is his signature in some of our least favorite Portlandia sketches and characters, Armisen employs repetition to salvage jokes and punchlines that miss their marks. In this case, forgetting that Sandra orders a water and lemonade from a restaurant isn’t that amusing the first time around—and listening to Joey ask a half-dozen times more doesn’t improve the line.
“Doug Becomes a Feminist” was an improvement from last week’s “Fashion” episode, but Portlandia’s mid-season hasn’t quite reached the bar set earlier this season with “The Story of Toni and Candace” or “SeaWorld.” In particular, this episode could have used a few more hobo-sexuals or militant mermaids and a lot less Joey the rideshare guy.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.