Portlandia wrapped its 10-episode season this week with “The Blackout,” in which the city of Portland and its eccentric denizens are thrust into chaos and darkness—kind of a fitting theme when looking back at the show’s third season.
In a different start to the show, Portlandia skipped the opening skit and dove headfirst into the crisis. It seems that after the Mayor (Kyle MacLachlan) resigned during an energy scandal earlier this season (his laser printer had been running at home for 10 years straight), no one’s left to pay the power bills. We watch as an Oregon power company customer service rep (the always hilarious Kumail Nanjiani) leaves another message on an answering machine in a darkened and deserted City Hall.
It’s quintessential Portlandia, providing us with ridiculously awesome setups and bizarro-land situations, but unfortunately, the follow-through isn’t there for this episode. The Blackout narrative is woven throughout all the sketches and characters this week, but if it weren’t for the appearance of guest Bill Hader as a mystical Australian named Birdman, there’d be little left to laugh about in the episode.
After Nanjiani’s character presses the “off” button, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein play Portlandia’s recurring characters reacting to the darkness. At Peter and Nance’s bed and breakfast, guests in the midst of the wine reception are unsure how to respond to the blackout. Peter’s on the verge of a panic attack, until a mysterious stranger—Birdman (who has the most awesome Australian accent, ever)—convinces all the guests to accompany him on a walkabout. Birdman leads them through the darkened streets, until he’s accidentally shot with an arrow and turns into a bird that flies away.
The arrow that hit Birdman was accidentally shot into the darkness by Dave (Armisen). He and Kath (Brownstein) are hopped up on adrenaline because they’re not only avid outdoorspeople, they’re also survivalists. Completely in their element, the world’s end is a turn-on for them. It’s too bad these annoying characters are a turn-off for us.
And in the episode’s third storyline, it’s up to Fred and Carrie to find the mayor to bring Portland back from the brink of disaster. In the continuation of a downer storyline, the platonic couple broke up last week after Alexandra (Chloë Sevigny) chose to date Fred over Carrie. Now they must put their differences aside for the good of the city. In a Lost-like quest, they traverse a forest to find the Mayor, who’s taken up with a tribe of “others.” He doesn’t recognize Carrie or Fred at first, and his command of English is gone. He finally snaps out of his stupor when he hears that Portland is in danger of becoming another suburb of Seattle.
The three race to city hall to call and reason with the power company’s rep, to no avail. He says it’ll take at least 10 business days to restore power after the bill is paid, six if it’s a rush job. The Mayor then decides to send in the big guns—Candace and Toni of Women and Women First Bookstore—to put the customer service rep in his place. The resolution was anticlimactic, but since we love Candace and Toni, we’ll take them over Kath and Dave any day.
Like last year’s season finale, “Brunch Village,” Portlandia took a chance on experimenting with format and characters. While this episode might have looked good on paper, the end result was flat, with the laughs few and far between. It serves as a microcosm for the entire season (though Portlandia’s still better than most half-hour sitcoms on right now). Portlandia relied on more related narratives and fewer off-the-wall skits, and things actually got a little depressing in the Rose City with a mayoral scandal, a mean temp mayor in Roseanne Barr and Carrie’s heartbreak.
So if we could ask Armisen, Brownstein and writer/director Krisel to do it all over again this season, we’d like a little less Alexandra (Chloë Sevigny’s character didn’t add much to the show) and definitely a lot more Birdman.