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Series / Portlandia

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The Dream of the '90s is ALIVE in Portland!

"Portland is where young people go to retire."
Jason from L.A.

Portlandia is a sketch comedy show that ran on IFC from 2011 to 2018 starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. It is set in Portland, Oregon and most of its humor comes from mocking the city's hipster culture, centering around Loads and Loads of Characters played by Armisen (one-time drummer for Post-Punk band Trenchmouth before becoming a longtime Saturday Night Live cast member) and Brownstein (writer/singer/guitarist for Alternative Rock band Sleater-Kinney).


Put a Trope on it!:

  • Affectionate Parody: The show is one to Portland, hipsters, and hipster culture in general.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: While this show likes to exaggerate Portland's quirkiness into oblivion, viewers who don't live in Portland are often amused and mystified to discover that a sketch is based on something people really do in Portland. The "canoe dancing" sketch is a great example.
  • Arc Words: In "Doug Becomes a Feminist", the quote "Well-behaved women rarely make history".
  • Archive Binge: Happens in-universe in "One Moore Episode", when two characters discover Battlestar Galactica (2003) and proceed to watch the entire series in a single sitting, without even getting up to go to the bathroom. When they unexpectedly arrive at the end of the series days later, they decide to hunt down showrunner Ronald D. Moore and persuade him to write more episodes.
  • As Himself:
    • While Fred and Carrie generally play strange Portlanders, they also play themselves as people who the mayor of Portland consults about various municipal matters for some reason.
    • Advertisement:
    • Aimee Mann plays herself as a down-on-her-luck maid, claiming she has to because the music industry is down.
    • Everyone plays themselves in the Brunch Special mockumentary.
    • Edward James Olmos and James Callis appear as themselves in "One Moore Episode".
    • Matt Groening shows up in "Fashion" to sue Spyke over his Bart Ska-mpson t-shirts.
    • Greta Gerwig in "Doug Becomes a Feminist", seeking advice from Toni and Candace on how to play a feminist mermaid.
  • Big Beautiful Man: The guy Carrie dates while discussing the Portland theme song in episode 2.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Japanese captions in "Aimee".
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: The show's theme is basically Portland's Bourgeois Bohemian population.
  • But Now I Must Go: The Mayor does this at the end of the series finale.
  • Call-Back:
    • Expect characters and items from one sketch to randomly show up in another.
    • The scene with the reviewers at Pitchfork Kids at the end of "Squiggleman" is almost a word-for-word re-enactment of the Pitchfork scene at the end of "Cat Nap".
  • The Cameo: Quite a few, including:
    • Steve Buscemi, of all people, is a hapless customer in the "Women & Women First" bookstore.
    • Also, James Callis and Edward James Olmos (not to mention Ronald D. Moore) in the Battlestar Galactica (2003) episode.
    • Tim Robbins plays the arbiter of the brunch line.
    • Danger Ehren shows up as a biker in one episode.
    • Musicians cameo with the same regular frequency as actors, though often in very brief, non-speaking roles.
  • Camp Straight: referred to as being "homo-logical"
    "I should be gay, but I'm not"
  • Chosen Conception Partner: In season 6, The Mayor reminds Carrie of a deal they'd worked out years before where she'd bear his children if she didn't already have any. Turns out he was prepared for the occasion by keeping a jar of sperm in his office fridge.
  • Civilized Animal: The rats and the mouse in "Zero Rats."
  • Cloudcuckooland: Keep Portland Weird indeed. Lampshaded to hell and back in "The Temp", when Fred and Carrie have to show off all of Portland's idiosyncrasies to a temp mayor played by Roseanne Barr.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The Mayor of Portland (played by Kyle Maclachlan), which isn't surprising given his constituency. Examples include sitting on an exercise ball instead of an office chair, drawing a dog on a Post-It instead of actually taking notes in a meeting, and lending out framed pieces of Native American art. He also clearly carries a grudge against Seattle for overshadowing Portland's Bourgeois Bohemian culture.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: A season 5 episode featuring Lance and Nina in couples therapy goes out of its way to use the words "shit" and "shitty" as many times as possible in one scene.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • When Aubrey Plaza walks into Women and Women First in booty shorts, Carrie, offended, asks what happened to her pants. "They're frayed."
    • Again at Women and Women First, Carrie asks an author about how you're supposed to print and distribute a book, then wonders aloud what Hemingway did. The author's answer? "He killed himself."
    • Also, when they mean "print and distribute a book," they don't mean "get published." They mean physically printing a book from a printer.
  • The Comically Serious: The Women and Women First segments derive most of their comedy from Candace and Toni having a truly absurd level of humorless self-importance.
  • Continuity Porn: "Brunch Village" features cameos from tons and tons of side characters, previous guest stars, and extras.
    • "Nina's Birthday" does this as well, with several different Fred/Carrie characters at the same dinner table all at once.
  • Cringe Comedy: a lot of the sketches involve Fred and Carrie acting like crazy people and "normal" people looking baffled.
  • Crosscast Role: Fred as Candace in the Women & Women First sketches. The Lance & Nina sketches are this for both Carrie & Fred, as they play a cross-cast couple (complete with Carrie's voice being pitch-shifted to make her sound extra manly).
    • The first three episodes of Season 5 seem to go out of their way to have fun with this trope. In a flashback in the first episode, Toni & Candace are both seen dressing up as men to get revenge on a sexist boss, making this a Crosscast role in real life and in-universe for Fred. In the second episode, we meet Lance's mother and her very young boyfriend, played by Justin Long, who looks exactly like Lance, despite Lance being played by Carrie. In the third episode, Candace shows off her "breast" to a doctor.
  • Crossover: John Mulaney and Nick Kroll appear in "Peter Follows P!nk" as their characters from The Oh, Hello Show, George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon.
  • Cult Defector: The two characters accidentally join a cult after visiting the farm that provided their organic chicken. After living there happily for several years, they randomly decide to leave. This is played completely for laughs.
  • Cute Kitten: Indie band the Nap change their name to Cat Nap and add their cat, Kevin, to play a scratch post. They suddenly experience runaway success.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Kath and Dave play this trope to the hilt in "TADA", after temporarily losing the ability to walk due to leg injuries sustained during the first few yards of a marathon they failed to properly train for. They give people hell, both for treating them differently due to their disabilites, and for not treating them differently enough. Then they show up at an ADA meeting and basically bully all of the real, permanently disabled people into listening to their petty concerns.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The mayor of Portland is revealed to secretly be in a reggae band. The press conference on this played out like a sex scandal.
    "Mayor Openly Reggae"
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: Played with: Carrie dates a man with Eddie Vedder's face tattooed on his left arm; however, she's the one who can't stand it, to the point of hallucinating the tattoo as it talks and sings to her. In the end, it's a deal breaker.
    • ... and she starts dating Eddie Vedder himself. Who, in turn, has a giant Ani DiFranco tattoo on his arm.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Mayor of Portland. He is only ever referred to as either "The Mayor" or "Mr. Mayor." A book he wrote is credited to "The Mayor of Portland." When Roseanne Barr takes over his position, she is referred to as "Mrs. Mayor". In the season two finale and resulting special, he doesn't even dare to drop a name.
  • Everybody Owns a Ford: All computers shown are Mac Books, and all phones and tablets are iPhones and iPads. All cars are Subaru Outbacks or Legacies, and any other make has their brand obscured.
  • Felony Misdemeanor:
    • A couple totally loses their shit over someone tying their dog up outside a restaurant in "A Song for Portland".
    • Jack McBrayer gets grilled by a cashier and manager for not bringing a reusable bag to a grocery store.
  • Finale Season: Season 8, which brought back some favorite guest stars and had some farewell segments for some of the characters.
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": Any time characters walk into a place of business and the employee who helps them is played by Kumail Nanjiani, expect him to be the walking embodiment of this trope. He will go through every single option available to the customer, in excruciating detail, whether they like it or not.
  • Foreshadowing / Brick Joke: Once Fred and Carrie finish their Battlestar Galactica binge, they decide to push Ronald Moore into writing another episode of the show. When they look him up in the phone book, they are vocally surprised that he (actually just another man with the name Ronald Moore) just happens to live fairly close by. It sounds like they're just Lampshade Hanging until the end of the episode where they hold a cold reading for the script of their new BSG episode, and one of the performers is "a local actor" who is actually played by the REAL Ronald Moore.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": Carrie visits the grave of a man she just committed manslaughter against and dances around singing to Fred over the phone.
  • Furry Female Mane: The female rat, Carrie has a full head of hair, but so does Fred the male rat.
  • The Gay '90s: "Cops Redesign" opens with a redux of "The Dream of the '90s", except, know. Carrie mistakenly dresses in a red slip and does the Charleston.
  • Grade-School C.E.O.: A tween-aged girl is discovered to be running MTV when Spike and several former MTV hosts invade their New York office to take back the network.
  • Granola Girl: Carrie (and Fred, sometimes) plays one every now and again.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Fred and Carrie both realize they have transitioned out of young adulthood to middle age in "Going Gray". Fred can't even remember for sure how old he is, and is shocked to discover that he's in his 40s.
  • Happy Place: Sparkle Pony tunes out when meanies are talking, and goes to a magical forest where she wears pretty clothes and pets... a pony.
  • Here We Go Again!: Twice in "One Moore Episode":
  • Hipster
  • How We Got Here: The main plot of "Off the Grid" begins with the mayor of Portland, heavily bearded and living on a farm, before flashing back to several weeks ago to explain why he left the city.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The couple mentioned above in "Felony Misdemeanor" tied their child to a pole down the street.
  • I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!: Peter's attempt to give up pasta for health reasons in "Winter in Portlandia".
  • I'm Standing Right Here: "Okay, this guy's got a really weird neck. Don't say anything about it, but compliment it. Ooh, you have a neck like a movie star!"
  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: In season 6's "Shville", we learn that the mayor of Austin, Texas looks and sounds exactly like the mayor of Portland, except he has a drawl, a huge mustache, and wears a cowboy hat.
  • Jerkass: Many characters on the show qualify, whether from actual malevolence or sheer self-absorption. A good example is the collective of baristas which create the Barista Manifesto, who are elitist, rude and paranoid even amongst each other.
  • Larynx Dissonance: Occasionally Fred and/or Carrie's voices are pitched for a role.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Happens to Fred and Carrie in "Family Emergency", when they catch Louis C.K. lying about a family emergency to get out of doing stand-up at a show they had tickets for. They blackmail him into hanging out with them, which he finds quite annoying because they expect him to be in his comedian persona the entire time, with Fred even going so far as to suggest jokes that Louis quickly shoots down as unimaginative and funny. Fred and Carrie then use the same "family emergency" excuse to get out of attending the opening of a friend's vape store. Through a series of events and mishaps, Louis ends up playing a gig at the store opening that Fred and Carrie are not invited to, and during which Louis steals Fred's unfunny jokes and the crowd eats them up.
  • Le Film Artistique: The "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" sketch riffs on said film as one. Made doubly funny by the fact the sketch uses a lot of themes and techniques from the film it's referring to.
  • Leitmotif: Women and Women First sketches always open with a flute melody.
  • Lethal Chef: A couple in "Aimee" dumpster dive...for food.
    • Actually a case of Reality Is Unrealistic: This is a mocking of an actual dietary/political movement, freeganism.
  • Let's Meet the Meat: The main plot of the show's first episode, "Farm", is kicked off when a couple eating at a restaurant wants assurance that the chicken they're about to eat is organic and was raised humanely, resulting in a visit to the chicken farm. Right in the middle of their dinner date. Which results in them joining a cult for several years.
  • Loony Fan: Gathy (Kristen Wiig), a fan of CatNap, who is terrified of bands she likes getting famous and "leaving" her. They eventually deal with her by incorporating her into the band and changing the name of the band to "Catnapped".
  • Magical Native American: One shows up in Dave's dream representing the coyotes he and Kath had been yelling at to stop killing neighborhood cats
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Alexandra, Fred and Carrie's roommate is an odd example. When you're already living in deepest Cloudcuckooland (i.e. Portland), a manic pixie dream girl is the kind of person who coincidentally does things from odd art movements and avant garde music without knowing about the context, or throws away glass bottles because she thinks that homeless Chinese people will steal them if you leave them with the recycling. Also, in a bit of a subversion, Fred and Carrie are surprised to learn they're significantly more culturally literate than she is.
    • Arguably a case of Inverted Trope. The "homeless people stealing bottles" thing is actually a fairly common complaint in states with a bottle deposit law (such as Oregon).
  • Medium Blending: "Cops Redesign" and "The Temp" feature shifts to stop motion for sketches about rats in a supermarket.
  • Meganekko: "All the hot girls wear glasses yeaahhhhhhh!"
  • Mockumentary: The Brunch Special is a slightly longer version of "Brunch Village" with a fake making-of feature tacked onto the end.
  • Mouse World: The rats.
  • Mundane Made Awesome:
    • Lots of examples, most notably the Portland Adult Hide-and-Seek League, and the man who "truly won", because he's been hiding since 1979.
    • In "One Moore Episode", where there's tons of pumping music for, among other things, Ronald D. Moore's (not that one) wife coming home.
    • "Cool Wedding" features Carrie dropping her iPhone in slow motion with a Really Dead Montage.
    • Later on in "Cool Wedding", Carrie puts off watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as sped-up sunsets with a Drone of Dread denote the passing days.
    • "You Can Call Me Al" ends with a climactic karaoke performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner".
  • Muppet Cameo: Oscar The Grouch makes a cameo during season 5.
  • Name's the Same: invoked After becoming obsessed with Battlestar Galactica, Fred and Carrie seek out series creator Ronald D. Moore... by looking through the phone book and looking for his name. They seem nonplussed by the fact that the Moore they find is a lower-middle-class elderly black man who they have to explain Galactica to in order to convince him to write more scripts for the series.
    • The real Moore shows up later in the skit, playing a local actor hired for a table reading of the script. The character has never heard of Battlestar Galactica.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Pat Boyle. She's an actual Portland-area broadcaster and shows up whenever they want to depict a TV interviewer.
  • The '90s: As the opening song notes, Portland is where the "Dream of the '90s" is still alive" as a reality.
  • No Name Given: The Mayor, until the final episode, where he reveals his first name is Shaun.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat
    • Women and Women First. The shopkeepers refuse to remove books from shelves for customers, are against alphabetizing the books on the shelves, and so on.
      • In their first appearance they locked a customer in the store while going to the bank to get $3 in change, discussing whether it might be a good idea to keep some in the store...
    • A man calls the DMV to ask for a replacement title on his car. The operator tells him that he'll have to be transferred; when the operator finds out that the transfer won't be back in for another hour, he tells the caller that it'll only be a moment. The caller eventually gets a letter in the mail that no, they can't replace his title.
    • Later subverted in the sketch "DMV Fairytales", when an exceedingly crappy day keeps Carrie from making it to a DMV appointment on time. This trope is expected when she shows up at the DMV after closing, but then it turns out an employee stayed open just for her and wants to soothe her nerves and hear all about how her day went.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The giant box that previously contained a very small sex toy.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In "4th Of July", The Mayor thinks Mr. Bacon is selling fireworks, while Mr. Bacon thinks The Mayor wants to buy weapons for a terrorist attack.
  • One-Hour Work Week: Enforced by Toni and Candace, who are lazy and unhelpful to customers so that they can do as little work as possible to keep their bookstore open.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: The film Mermaid Springa stars Greta Gerwig as Militant, a young mermaid who goes to spend time on dry land and turns into a gun-toting stoner feminist.
  • Overcomplicated Menu Order: The series includes a sketch in which a starving couple wander into an overly gourmet burger joint and are exhausted by the barrage of options they're forced to navigate just to order a simple burger. They're then forced to start over because the menu changed while they were ordering.
    • There's also the "Order Grill" sketch, where the entire restaurant is designed around the experience of placing an order, in as convoluted a manner as possible.
  • Overly Long Gag: "Sacajawea...Sacajawea...Sacajawea..."
    • Also any time Peter stutters in the middle of a sentence. "And - and - and - and - " *long beat* " - and - and..."
    • Cacao
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: The city recently won the award for "Best Official Website for cities with populations under 700,000 in the Pacific Northwest area". Especially since there are no cities that big in the northwestern U.S. (It is implied to specifically exclude Seattle, the only city with a population close to that and which the mayor has a grudge against.)
  • Parody Commercial: Since it's sketch comedy, this is often played straight with commercials for local Portland shops, goods, or services.
    • Ads for the Portland Milk Advisory Board become a Once an Episode Running Gag in Season 3. They tend to show up in the middle of actual commercial breaks.
    • And then the trope is inverted by an ad for Geico, frequently aired during the show, that is disguised as a Portlandia sketch taking place at the organic restaurant shown in the pilot episode. (Which makes things tricky if you've DVR'd the show and are inclined to skip ads.)
    • One of these becomes a plot point in "Pull-Out King", where Jeff Goldblum does a rather uncanny parody of a real Kitschy Local Commercial, selling pull-out beds and declaring "I am the king." Lance, who is the self-proclaimed "pull-out king" for other reasons, is offended at someone else appropriating the title.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Fred and Carrie, both as their characters and in real life.
    • Well, until Season 6, when they decide to have sex. It doesn't take.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Royce from the Portland Milk Bureau, who is obviously less competent than his underling Alicia. Eventually Alicia takes over his job and he is demoted.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: A very frequent joke.
  • Polyamory: Fred and Carrie briefly simultaneously date their roommate Alexandra. After she breaks up with Carrie, Fred feels uncomfortable dating someone who broke his best friend's heart, and eventually breaks up with Alexandra too.
  • Pyromaniac: Candace, Fred's character at the Women and Women First bookstore, seems to be fond of solving problems by dousing them in gasoline.
  • Quirky Town: The entire point of the show. (To the extent that there is a point at all.)
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: Often.
  • Rated M for Manly: Lance, despite being played by Carrie. Sketches usually revolve around him being henpecked into doing more touchy-feely and stereotypically "feminine" things by Nina.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: In Other Words, the Portland feminist bookstore where the Women and Women First sketches were filmed, announced that they wouldn't allow the show in their store anymore after season 6, because of what they felt was its mockery of feminism, and a financial dispute over how much the store was getting paid by the producers. As a result, season 7 saw Candace and Toni closing the store (which is set to become a GameStop) and going into retirement.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: "Feel It All Around" by Washed Out.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: People are often surprised to discover that the show is actually not exaggerating certain political movements and situations very much. Much of the political content espoused by Fred Armisen's "cyclist" character, for example, is actually part of the "cyclist's rights" platform.
  • Revisiting the Roots: After seasons 5 and 6 saw the show focus more on character-driven humor (with a few single-storyline episodes), season 7 went back to the sketch-driven, satirical style of the early years.
  • Rhyming with Itself: Fred rhymes "right" with "right" in "A Song for Portland".
  • Running Gag: Birds on things.
  • Safe Word: Cacao. Gets abused until Ninanote  texts it to Lancenote  despite the two not even being in the same place at the time.
  • Sanity Slippage: Carrie as she watches The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
  • Sell-Out: In "First Feminist City", Women & Women First becomes a tourist attraction due to Portland's reputation as a mecca for feminism. This causes a huge clash between Toni and Candace when Candace leaves the store to help promote a feminist "superstore" being built to capitalize on the trend.
  • Serious Business: At least half the humor is about somebody taking something too seriously. For example, in "The Temp" one member of a hippie conclave decides to get a gym membership. When the others discover this, they act as if he died.
  • Severely Specialized Store: The Two Girls, Two Shirts shop.
    • Femimart, the feminist superstore.
  • Sleeping Single: Fred and Carrie do this.
  • Shout-Out:
    • During the "Over" sketch, one of the albums visible in the record store is Sleater-Kinney's Dig Me Out.
    • "One Moore Episode" has a plot about Fred and Carrie watching Battlestar Galactica (2003) and trying to get more episodes written.
    • There's a send-up of Porky Pig's "That's All, Folks!" in "One Moore Episode".
    • Also in "One Moore Episode", Carrie watches The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and experiences Sanity Slippage as the camera angle tilts and the visual goes black-and-white.
    • The "Take Back MTV Charity Ball" scene name-drops all of the foundations that support NPR programming, including a Finnish guy whose name sounds like "Viewers Like You"
    • Carrie and Fred's bedroom is laid out exactly like Bert and Ernie's, right down to the monogrammed headboards.
  • Shown Their Work: The show gets all the stereotypes right, down to neighborhoods and individual streets.
    • The Brunch Village mockumentary, ostensibly devoted to this trope, takes the concept to ludicrous extremes.
  • Sketch Comedy
  • Stop Copying Me: The stripper sketch in "Aimee".
  • Straw Feminist: The owners of "Women and Women First". One has problems with pointing because "every time she sees it, she sees a penis."
  • Take That Me: Carrie Brownstein isn't shy about poking fun at her indie rock roots. Carrie is also a feminist in real life (belonging to the band, Sleater-Kinney, which was part of the feminist 'riot grrrl' movement) but routinely makes fun of the more militant wing of feminism in the 'Women and Women First' sketches.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: Inverted in that Fred and Carrie are terrible interviewers, but all the baseball team member candidates seem adequate enough.
  • They Stole Our Act: Happens to Dave and Kath at the karaoke party in "You Can Call Me Al".
  • Trashcan Bonfire: In "Brunch Village", these are present in the sketchy neighborhood Carrie ends up in after getting sent to the back of the line.
  • Two-Part Episode: "Going Gray" and "Shville" in season 6.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Kirsten Dunst's character in "Sharing Finances" seems completely unbothered by her own corpse despite the fact that she's been a ghost for all of about 5 seconds. Possibly justified: as Terry Pratchett points out in his books, the fact that one is separated from the body and glands makes one much more serene about everything.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: The show isn't shy about tossing it everything from extended references to classic films to depicting political movements more or less accurately.
  • You Dirty Rat!: Averted with the the stop-motion animated rats.

Keep Portland Weird!"


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