Press Talk: ‘Portlandia’ and the Couv

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor

Published:

 

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor emeritus. His column of personal opinion appears the first Saturday of every month. Reach him at lounews1@gmail.com.

run into my fair share of folks who never — and I mean never — venture into Portland.

It’s just too weird.

You know, the whole big-city, too-crowded, strange-people schtick.

But that’s exactly what draws me there. And that’s exactly why a marginally off-the-wall TV show has been filming there for years.

“Portlandia.”

Portland’s where young people go to retire. And old guys like me go to watch how young people live when they’re retired.

Ironically, for me, Portland is the show. TV stars not necessary. Although they do add a certain unrefined elegance.

• • •

So, when I got wind that “Portlandia” was filming in Vancouver on Thursday, I said to myself, “Far out!” and drifted down to the location. Now, it should be noted here that even though I’m part of the mainstream media cartel, I received no special access.

Fred Armisen, one of the stars of the IFC channel’s show, didn’t stop filming when I showed up so he could greet me. He also didn’t badger me about a free Don’t Do Stupid Stuff mug.

Fred, you know you have to cough up a sawbuck, just like everybody else!

• • •

If you’ve never seen “Portlandia,” it really is a way cool depiction of Portland at its finest. And like most quality humor, there is enough truth in the genesis of its skits that it feels marginally plausible.

The show actually originated as comedy sketches on the internet in 2005. Those sketches were then pitched as a comedy show, and in 2011, they hit your TV screen.

The producers have always been pretty tight-lipped about details of their upcoming episodes, but graffiti they used on a couple of walls Thursday might give us a clue.

One sign read, “Rip Off City.” Portland Trail Blazers fans — of course — know the Rip City logo. It was a line used by a Blazers announcer and embraced by the team, so much so that you can often see them wear Rip City uniforms.

The other read, “Keep Portland Weird,” with the word Weird crossed out and replaced by the word Gentrified

 When you look at Portland through a Vancouver lens, there are many residents who feel like the city is a rip-off. Most everything is higher priced there, especially housing. It’s not unusual to have Portland families move here to get a bigger bang for their buck.

And as far as the “Keep Portland Weird” motto? Hey, I like it. I mean, “Keep Portland Like White Bread” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. And I suspect those T-shirt sales wouldn’t be as robust.

But, again, there are those in Vancouver who like the gentrified look and feel of Vancouver. Most of us have middle-class values and middle-class tastes. And we like the conformity that exists in our middle-class neighborhoods.

Me?

I’m not there yet. I like being a little on the odd side. For example, much of my lawn is — how do I say this? — natural. I find beauty in the brown, and why do so many of us have so much against weeds?

Weeds got rights, too!

• • •

My sense is, it’s easy for Portland residents to laugh at themselves. They’re comfortable in their own skins. So when “Portlandia” emphasizes their weirdness, they’re good with it.

Armisen and his co-star, Carrie Brownstein, are comic superstars who capture Portland perfectly. They also write for the show. And that cocktail mix of talent is priceless.

• • •

By day’s end on Thursday, you would never even have known “Portlandia” had been in town. The actors were long gone, the support crew and equipment vanished.  And those quite-cool graffiti signs? Whitewashed off the walls.

But the show goes on. The real-life one, I mean. Right across the river.

See you this weekend. Stay weird.