In Slate's Portlandia TV Club, Chris Wade will IM each week with a different fan of the show. This week, he discusses “No-Fo-O-Fo-Bridge” with Slate copy editor Miriam Krule.
Chris Wade: As someone who's been poring over this season, “No-Fo-O-Fo-Bridge” felt like third-season Portlandia confidently emerging from its metamorphosis into a more complicated and specific kind of sketch show, finally nailing the balance between episodic plots and strong one-off sketches it’s been tinkering with all season. But you’re not that type of fan, right?
Miriam Krule: I've seen a lot of the show, but mostly through clips. And there hasn't been an episode this season I felt I needed to see in full, especially not tonight's. I thought this episode was really short on relatable clips, ones that go viral like "Did you read this?" and the Battlestar Galactica opening, which are the reason I watch the show in the first place.
Wade: Interesting and understandable. Yes, this whole season has seriously lacked notable stand-alone sketches. Tonight’s episode conforms to this trend, but it’s also functioning surprisingly well on a different level. We basically have two mini sitcom arcs: the drama in Fred-Carrie-Alexandra's love triangle and the animated Rat roommates having their friendship tested by a move. Both felt well-realized and left room for strong one-off sketches.
Krule: My favorite scene was Alexandra breaking up with Carrie at a community table restaurant. It was cloaked in the love triangle, but was still funny on its own.
Wade: This might be one of my favorite scenes this show has done. Balancing details from a relationship they hinted at all season (and defined last week) with a classically Portlandian absurd situation and stuffed with jokes relating to both. It handled the relationship-based humor of a good sitcom with the lightness and tangential relationship to reality of a sketch show.
Krule: Can you explain the appeal of the rats? It seems like in some writing meeting someone said "Well, there should PROBABLY be stop-motion animation in this show ... " But it’s just another scene of people sitting around complaining about toy stores that sell only wooden toys.
Wade: There’s a toy store like that on my block. I agree that the stop-motion animation, while very lushly rendered, feels superfluous and distracting at times. That being said, the last two times we've seen them, the scenes were actually really funny and had a lot of great lines. (Especially from the neurotic third rat, played by producer John Levenstein: "I tried to keep the ad simple, 'roommate wanted,' but it's so much more complicated than that right now.") We also have a few strong one-off sketches. Fred and Carrie navigating the labyrinth of escalators in an urban multiplex was pretty identifiable.
Krule: I thought that was only a Times Square thing, but was a nice touch having the useless ticket rippers, too. The cold open about baby-raising techniques was also good. It was short and sweet and hit just the right note at the end. And Fred "being himself" with the baby is perfect: It seems to me every parent does actually talk to his toddler, or at least wants to, as if they're old friends.
Wade: I liked that all the stand-alones involved Fred and Carrie playing new characters, or at least wearing new wigs, instead of continuing to force material on their heavily used stock characters of Kath and Dave, Peter and Nance.
Krule: Here’s the thing: I’m a fair-weather Portlandia fan. I’ll champion the show when it’s funny, but I’m still not compelled to follow its every move.
Wade: Fair enough, but it might be less and less rewarding to be this kind of fan of the show if it continues this trajectory. Although based on the teaser, the finale looks kind of epic and amazing.
Krule: I might just have to wait for the recap.