When we saw the title of this week’s Portlandia episode, “Spyke Drives,” we weren’t too thrilled. Fred Armisen’s bike-loving alter ego hasn’t been one of our favorite characters. Truth be told, he’s kind of a punk (both in the literal and figurative sense). But despite initial misgivings, we’ll admit that Spyke was a perfect choice to play an integral part in several of the transportation-centric storylines.
The opening sketch features Peter and Nance in crisis: Nance has sprained her ankle badly, and she needs to go to the hospital. “Can you drive?” Peter asks her while she’s writhing on the porch in pain. The fun continues as we watch the overly cautious Peter driving slower than bicycles—and even a hobbling Nance, who’s gotten out of the car to demonstrate how slowly he’s driving. “I need you to man up right now,” she says. When that doesn’t work, she tells him he’s driving like a “f-ing p*ssy.”
So we’ve finally witnessed a Portlander step out of the bliss bubble and totally lose her cool. The cursing goes against the usual tone of the show (we thought people were too nice to swear in Portland, right?), but we’re glad Nance finally said what we were all thinking.
Spyke’s sketches revolve around his need for a car. The boss says that his T-shirt business is booming, and Spyke needs more than a bike to deliver the increased orders. He asks Iris over dinner, “If I got a car, would you still love me in the same way?” There’s great use of a dramatic pause and equally dramatic music in this scene, which hilariously builds up Iris’ answer: “It’s fine, dude.” Again, not the typical response in Portlandia, but we’ll just go with it.
Spyke takes Lance (Carrie) with him car shopping, and guest Kumail Nanjiani returns as a smarmy used car salesman who shows a selection of cars that ranges from a Jeep that screams “shots and date rapes,” to a biodiesel-run Mercedes with a French fry smell, to the ornately decorated art car (aka the “face tattoo of cars”). Ultimately, Spyke chooses a nondescript blue sedan, which the salesman describes as the “default setting of cars.” Thanks to Nanjiani, the sales sketch was the funniest of the Spyke-centric bunch.
There are two noteworthy standalone sketches in this episode. One involves Doug and Claire, who promise to be as nice to each other as they are to their dog, Toby. The hilarious petting and praising scenes hit home for so many pet owners. The second features Armisen (who is so good at creating annoying characters) as a wine snob and dinner party host who won’t stop telling boring stories. His guests try and leave politely, but he keeps them captive, but not captivated with his stories. With a quick cut, the guests are transported to a medieval court of kings, where the dinner guests go all Game of Thrones’ “Red Wedding”-lite on their hosts.
Guests in this episode include Kyle MacLachlan as the mayor, who shops at Fred and Carrie’s garage sale to decorate his Cafe Y2k. “People love eating around nostalgia,” the mayor says. Annie Clark (St. Vincent) returns this week, going up against a know-it-all fan (Armisen). He’s talking music gear and sharing tips with her—a professional musician—leading to more inane conversations. Clark looks comfortable on screen and holds her own against Armisen, but the sketch is a dud.
Later in the episode, we see Spyke turn into a supporter of drivers’ rights, raging against bikers and pedestrians. He even organizes a “critical mass” assembly of cars, riffing on an earlier bicyclist gathering. “Not everything has to be a battle,” Iris says to her belligerent partner. We’re seeing a pattern here with Iris, Nance and other characters taking charge and making sense. It’s refreshing to see a dose of reality in Portlandia—but only once in awhile.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.