Medium shot: a non-threatening clean-cut dude explains that Portland has a 12% unemployment rate. Cut to: a local couple continues his train of thought. Then–cut–a random woman continues their thought. Cut. Some other dude takes it from there, then–cut!—yet another picks up where he left off. Cut to Fred Armisen’s ubiquitous bike messenger dude chiming in, then, the jump cuts get spastic, and one of the never-ending parade of Portlandians that is now speaking in syllables only suggests that in order to reach a 100% employment rate, all the town needs is to create jobs as “Sentence Finishers.” Clever devils. Why not begin the season finale of Portlandia with a send-up of political ads turned aural Cubist montage? A slyly smart set-up that evolves into free-flowing silliness is what the show is all about. And, oh, how we’ll miss it.
Skit 1: Oblique Coffee. Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen stand hunched over the pastry display heatedly discussing the selection, only to be interrupted by their beloved mayor (the always delightfully chipper Kyle MacLachlan) who is strapped into a bike helmet and knocking furiously on the window. He’s just back from Baltimore where he enjoyed an Orioles game (Brownstein and Armisen look quizzically at each other—“isn’t that baseball?”), and he has a fantastic idea: Portland needs a professional baseball team! Naturally, the team will be called the Portland Thinkers, and naturally, Brownstein and Armisen are the perfect candidates to find the local “athletes” that will comprise the team. The mayor, bagel in hand, rides off. Aaaaaand…we have our theme.
Skit 2: Wilson Light Bulbs. Despite the dismal unemployment rate, handcrafted light bulb makers are thriving in Portland. It’s not all that surprising, as each one of the easily-broken, short-lasting bulbs costs 68 bucks. Armisen is the Light Bulb Impresario, giving us a behind-the-scenes peek at his “craft” (which includes him banging on one of his creations with a hammer). Guest star Nick Kroll, as a loyal customer, provides a testimonial from his decidedly dim house. And who’s that curled up in the corner of the light bulb studio? It’s Darby (Brownstein), Light Bulb Impresario’s assistant, with a touch of glass-in-the-lung and a talent for fucking up Light Bulb Impresario’s flow. After a few passive-aggressive digs by LBI, he accidentally electrocutes Darby in a wiring mishap. As Darby regains consciousness, LBI turns to camera and hisses, “That’s the third time she’s done that this week.”
Skit 3: Women & Women First. It’s Book Club Night. No, it’s a poetry workshop in which the members are reading the masterpieces they wrote in response to last week’s assigned theme: cats. Whatever it is, Armisen and Brownstein’s humorless but oh-so-lovable lesbian bookstore owners are presiding, surrounded by several sensibly-dressed womyn sitting on folding chairs arranged in a circle. Enter luscious Heather Graham who is “here for journaling class” (aha!). Armisen is quick to tell her that it “starts later,” then in the same breath tells the woman next to him/her that her cat passage was “abysmal.” Heather, unfazed, settles into the circle and begins to read from her journal all about her perfect and wonderful boyfriend Chad.
Armisen and Brownstein are appalled; Brownstein almost to the point of a subdued rage. “What a journal should be is a document of misery.” Heather, again, unfazed, cheerfully adds her info to the journalizing class sign-up sheet that is making the rounds: Name/Phone/Day of Cycle—and almost immediately she receives a texted come-on from a fellow journaler: “I’m the one in the indigenous pantsuit.” Everyone in the room besides the jealous Armisen falls for Heather–especially Brownstein, who follows Heather into the stacks and unleashes her passion: “I feel like you have a unicorn inside you.” And what do you know? Heather loves unicorns. Armisen, watching helplessly, starts flinging Brownstein’s precious books off of the shelves. But she’s too busy smelling Heather’s thighs to notice.
Skit 4: Pier Park. It’s Portland Thinkers professional baseball team tryouts, and Brownstein and Armisen are all set up at a card table in the park with reading lamps, props, and a stack of headshots. The Mayor’s dream of his “national team” is but a few grueling hours of auditions away. Key word: auditions. Because is Portland, baseball is creative, not athletic. Hey guy, got a metaphor for a baseball? You’re in. Dude, can you make a sound like a bat swinging? Also in. You: can you handle Armisen’s role-playing as a steroid salesman? Overgrown adolescent in the “Punky Bruisers” T-shirt—can you name the title of this song? Yes? In! Grizzled man in motorcycle jacket, can you handle Armisen and Brownstein as a “taunting crowd,” complete with chucked baseballs? In. Actually, like the perfect baseball dream come true, everyone’s in. You’ve all made the team! Portland, meet your Thinkers.
Skit 5: Porchlight Dining. A photographer from the esteemed publication the Portland Dining Guide shows up in the kitchen to take a few shots of celebrity chefs Marcus and Ana (played by our two stars). They agree. They really fucking agree. To the photog’s horror, out come the practiced pouts, the creative director-y model-motivating scenarios (including the H-O-T “Tiger toward camera”), the props (everything from scallions to spatulas to a bowl of milk poured over the head), the extras (“real models” otherwise known as pretty waitresses from the front of house), and the constant querying: “Do we look hot do we look skinny is that sexy?” So, basically, the skit is the embodiment of what would happen if Top Chef and America’s Next Top Model had a baby and named it Saturday Night Live.
Skit 6: Irving Park. It’s Summer Movie night at the park. Everyone’s there, and everyone’s carrying bamboo mats, blankets, coolers, and/or folding chairs with/on which to enjoy their free outdoor entertainment. But Armisen and Brownstein have it down: they are carting a Persian rug, actual chairs, and a heap of other home goods in a red wagon. Armisen pulls out the measuring tape so they can fence off their temporary home (they indeed have a portable white picket fence). Discussion of where to put the shelving unit and what’s in the stainless-steel blender ensues as they disrupt the pre-move-viewing lounging of their fellow moviegoers. After a stern warning to any potential “talkers,” finally, Armisen and Brownstein are set, clinking wine glasses (“to outdoor film”) over a table adorned with a vase with fresh-cut flowers. They’re right at home, and ready for the damn movie to start already. Brownstein starts a protest chant to get the movie to start, and just as it does, Armisen turns to her and says, “You know, if we leave now we can beat the crowd.”
Skit 7: Oblique Coffee. Brownstein and Armisen are back amongst the plethora of pastries to meet with Mr. Mayor about how to market the brand-new Portland Thinkers professional baseball team. In mere seconds, the conversation becomes a whirling brainstormer’s dream led by Brownstein (guess she’s brushed up her idea-making skills while dodging yoga balls at Wieden + Kennedy) and Mr. Mayor. Armisen, baffled at the creative turn (really, Fred? you should be used to it by now…) can only get in the occasional “When?” “How?” and “During the game?” amid the idea firestorm. Brownstein is on a roll. “Lets make the bat a character. Batty Batterson!” The mayor eats her every idea nugget up with a spoon. Let’s animate each player and turn it into a cartoon. Yes. Let’s make a character called The Grumpire. YES! Armisen is only left to ask who’s going to finance. Radio silence.
The end credits roll over the so-bad-it’s-brilliant idea come to life: the Portland Thinkers cartoon starting Batty Baterson, Mitty Mitchell and the Grumpire. That’s all, folks! Until next season, just dream of the ‘90s, put a bird on it, brush up on those glass-blowing skills, and polish your Doc Martens, like I’m going to.