Yep, the dream of the ’90s is still alive in Portland, and it’s coming back tomorrow night when Portlandia returns to IFC for Season 2. Amid the returning characters played by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and their usual guests, the new season boasts an impressive roster of visiting talent, mostly from the music world, including Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse), Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and others. It’s not terribly surprising, considering Portlandia’s Brownstein has a musical pedigree that includes indie rock darlings Sleater-Kinney and her current project, Wild Flag.
I talked to Brownstein about what’s new in Portlandia and what we can all expect. “I think this season is stronger on character, a lot stronger on story, and I think, from episode to episode, overall they function more coherently as entire episodes,” she offers. And along with coherence, consistent themes began to emerge. “I think one of the underlying themes is the perennial adolescent and adults who are [reluctant] to let go of youthful hopes and dreams, and find that you have to actually sort of enact adulthood, and that can be a crushing process. That comes up a couple of times in the series.”
At this point, Brownstein and Armisen have a working rhythm, a knowledge of what’s going to work and what’s not that made shooting the new season of Portlandia just that much better. “There were these goats,” she recalls, “there were about 50 goats that somebody — ostensibly a farmer — brought into an empty lot in the city. And the goats lived there for about a month or two to maintain [the land] — because it was just grass and weeds. … We were on the move, and we just stopped and said, ‘We have to film something here.’
“That level of spontaneity and that sort of unspoken shared language and sensibility I definitely feel akin to playing music, because you need that shortcut with people, and that kind of fearlessness that something interesting might come from the unknown. And I think we all share that.”
By “all,” Brownstein means that it’s not just Brownstein and Armisen — it’s their whole crew. It’s something that develops naturally when working on the limited budget on which Portlandia is shot. “Portland is not a major city for somebody to fly into — it always feels a little bit out of the way,” she says, describing the low-cost vibe on the show’s set. “We share a trailer and a dressing room, and everyone who comes on the show kind of has to embrace and embody the spirit of it, and everyone does.”
That includes the high-flying talent they regularly recruit for Portlandia. “Tim Robbins — he’s an amazing actor,” Brownstein says. “He flew into Portland, brought his own wig that he had used in High Fidelity — that he still has — and he called our costume designer beforehand and gave her a list of accoutrements that he wanted for his character. Everyone that came on the show really embraced it in that way and I think we sort of knew that reaching out to them.”
Photo: Chris Hornbecker/IFC