“Portlandia,” IFC’s Emmy-nominated sketch comedy series, is nearing the start of its third season, set to premiere on Friday, January 4, 2013 at 10pm. With a league of extraordinary guest stars slated to appear in the new season (including Chloë Sevigny and a returning Kyle MacLachlan), Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein — the show’s co-creators and co-writers, along with Jonathan Krisel — participated in a conference call last week to give journalists a taste of what’s to come for the unique Oregon-based show. What’s changed since season one for the writers? Will they ever leave Portland? How did Martina Navratilova fare on the “Portlandia” set? Are the real Fred and Carrie as gullible as the fake Fred and Carrie? And… Chloë Sevigny (a question in and of herself)?
Below are the most notable reveals concerning what’s been happening behind-the-scenes of “Portlandia” and what to expect in season three.
Portland is cool. Even though other cities can be cool, too, Oregon is likely where they’ll stay. When asked if they’d ever give the “Portlandia” treatment to another city, Armisen mentioned that he found Pittsburgh interesting, as well as Detroit and Minneapolis — but “when a show goes to another city, sometimes it’s a little risky.” He conceded that it might be fun for them, as writers, but “for the viewers, they’re like, 'Where are we?'” Brownstein commented on their fondness for Portland, and added that the show isn’t specifically “Portland-based,” though they don’t seem to have any real plans for moving the show to another locale (even if only for a special episode). Wherever the show may be, “Portlandia,” Brownstein asserted, is rooted in its characters and its story, which leads us to our second insight…
While the show retains its sketch-like appendages, its core has become driven by the characters and the stories they tell. Brownstein wanted to make it clear that they now “spend a lot more time being deliberate about endings and really making sure there is a story.” Though it may have begun as a sketch series in its first season, “Portlandia” is moving further and further away from its sketch origins and into territory of genuine character development. “There have to be stakes,” Brownstein said. “There has to be something that brings tension to the scene.”
Speaking of stories: Peter and Neil, a boring couple at a cult farm, are Carrie’s favorite characters of season three. Brownstein describes Peter and Neil as the “un-chic, boring couple who are very much in love with each other” and “a little bit syrupy.” Their story takes place at a cult farm, and, while there’s multiple plots this season — Brownstein and Armisen “really explore [Peter and Neil’s] relationship a lot this year.”
Roseanne Barr, Jim Gaffigan and Patton Oswalt were awesome, and Martina Navratilova was — apparently — a knockout guest star. While recognizing the difficulty in choosing a favorite guest star (“All of the actors have been amazing”), Brownstein said, of Navratilova: “It’s just so surreal to work with a legend and, literally, one of the greatest tennis players of all time. She’s in the highest echelon of that sporting role, and I think, because she wasn’t an actor or a comedian or a musician, it just lends itself to the surrealism.” Armisen mentioned that Ronald D. Moore has been great to work with in the past — and that maybe we’d see him in the next season.
And, finally, Chloë Sevigny. How did that work out? As Carrie’s new roommate, Sevigny helps flesh out the characters of Fred and Carrie more; Armisen said, “We thought: let’s put another person in with them, who is close enough that it can actually have an effect on their friendship in some way.” And Sevigny, although not a comedic actress in the past, seems to have more in common with Brownstein and Armisen than one might’ve thought. “Chloe is a very confident actress, very dedicated to the craft,” Brownstein said of the guest star. “There was this innate chemistry that made us really look forward to being on set with her and hanging out.” They couldn’t give any specific plot points involving their new roommate, barring that they run up to Seattle on a mission for the mayor and end up bringing back Sevigny as a souvenir “to showcase and add a little tension to [Carrie] and Fred’s dynamic.”
Armisen and Brownstein are good at making jokes about hipsters because, well, maybe they’re hipsters, too. “We come from those communities,” Armisen said, lightly, after being asked how they manage to keep their jokes about the underground/”hipster” community so on-point. Brownstein agreed, adding that the shows remains positive, optimistic, because of this very fact. “We’re inside these words,” she said. “We’re not on the outside, looking in and targeting people. We are these people.”
But are they really THESE people? Sort of. “I think they’re a little more dumb than we are,” Armisen said, with Brownstein adding: “They’re definitely more gullible, I hope, than me or Fred.” The appeal of being able to portray somewhat naïve, wet-behind-the-ears characters, Brownstein insisted, is that “the audience gets to explore a situation along with us.” Brownstein also references other characters as having a small piece of her occasionally outlandish personality lodged inside their psyche: “Interestingly enough,” Brownstein said, “I wouldn’t say the character of Carrie is any more like me than some of the other characters.”
“Portlandia” recently debuted an all-new pre-season bonus episode titled “Winter in Portlandia” on December 14. The episode is available on IFC.com, the Portlandia Facebook page, and iTunes. The series returns for its third season on Friday, January 4, 2013 at 10pm on IFC.