Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s sketch comedy series “Portlandia” began by fondly skewering Portland culture. Now the show is going into its fourth season and has built up a whole universe of memorable characters of its own, from persnickety feminist bookstore owners to promoters of alternatives to pasteurized milk. Sure, Armisen and Brownstein are great as Fred and Carrie, who we see going everywhere on bikes, taking gentle jabs at Pitchfork, surviving the DJ apocalypse and assisting the Mayor (Kyle MacLachlan) by retrieving him from a reggae band or restoring him (and the city) to power. But the pair’s medley of other personas has us hungry for more. While there are sure to be some new characters introduced in the fourth season, we’re also looking forward to seeing more of the regular acts, occasional reappearances and spin-offs of previous seasons’ most satisfying spoofs. Here’s a non-authoritative top seven selection of the best pairs of characters “Portlandia” has offered so far.
1. Candace and Toni
Be honest, these two probably came to mind first. The two humorless feminists behind the counter of “Women and Women First” are out to change the female world with their bookstore, one “queer horror” at a time. Most of the time, we see Candace (played by Armisen) and Toni (played by Carrie) hilariously accosting their rare customers with behavior that is subtly erratic at best (and creepily aggressive at worst). Some of their greatest lines include Candace’s “Please stop pointing, every time you point I see a penis,” Toni’s compliment “I feel like there’s a unicorn inside you” and this exchange:
Candace: I’m proud of you son, even though you’re a man.
Son: Well, I can’t change that.
Toni: You can, actually.
And then there’s that time they made a bathroom-user make a purchase:
2. Spike and Iris
“If there’s anything you’ve done, we’re not doing it” declared devoutly atypical couple Spike and Iris at the commencement of their wedding planning session in season one. Cheerily and almost smugly obsessed with being on the cutting edge and different in all the little ways, Iris says “esoteric” like it’s the highest of complimentary adjectives. Whether they’re performing a shaming-of-the-ex ritual at a wedding rehearsal or storming New York to take back MTV in season two, everything about this pair of not-exactly-hipsters makes us go “Oh, I definitely know someone just like this.” And while that’s definitely part of the fun of “Portlandia” overall, it really rings true for these guys.
Here’s Spike declaring the over-ness of all the things he used to enjoy because “a guy like that” likes them too:
3. Vintage Store Owner and Girl Selling Clothes
Have you ever taken your clothes to Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange to make some extra cash, only to have just about everything rejected? Or that vintage store you approached with your would-be goods gives you less cash than store credit? If you have, these two characters in this sketch feel spot-on. If you haven’t, this may keep you from ever trying.
4. Peter and Nance
Again, Peter and Nancy aren’t just recognizable characters — we feel like we know them. From their cutesy awkward PDAs over brunch to a joint effort to open a bed & breakfast, Peter and Nance are that late 30s, early 40s pair of Portland-dwellers who get indignant when a biker-dude casually calls Peter “Old Man.”
Armisen shines a new light on the conversational hinderance of vocal static via Peter, and Brownstein plays the role of supportive wife as Nance after cutting pasta from their diet sends Peter over the edge. With every skit, they break down couple-norms into small diced-up bits of sentiments and idiosyncrasies until we’re left laughing and shaking our heads. Watch them create a poster to wave at local soccer team the Portland Timbers game — and a chant.
5. Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman
They only get about a minute or two per appearance, but boy, do these two make them count. Bryce and Lisa are best known for “putting birds on things,” picking up that old bandaid and declaring “we can pickle that!” or making a plug for “the Outlet Hotel.” If you need to make your tote bag more artisanal, or to relocate to a hotel with more accessible places to plug in your electronics, they’re your folks.
Watch them “put a bird on it!”
6. The Unemployed Millennials
“I kinda feel like our whole generation got screwed.” Six months after college, these post-grads moved home. They’re looking for a new way to do something political. They have an electro protest anthem by Bot Dylan. They will “change the world one party at a time.” One skit says it all.
7. Nina and Lance
If you don’t recognize these names immediately, here’s some help: Armisen is Nina and Brownstein is Lance. This pair tackles male-versus-female stereotypes with a twist, often parodying the opposite sex in amusing but bell-ringing ways. From sex toys to recycling to adult birthday parties, they’re possibly the most willing recurring characters to get weird yet.
Nina: I just put a picture of myself on Facebook, you should comment!
Lance: Uh, you look great!
Nina: No, on Facebook!
Watch Nina and Lance settle on a safe word:
While Armisen and Brownstein are very funny in these many roles, we also wanted to give a shout-out to the show’s many cameos — like Jeff Goldblum as the knot seller and then purveyor of fine doilies, Audrey Plaza popping up at “Women and Women First” to buy books for class and Kirsten Wiig kidnapping Fred, Carrie and their musically inclined cat. And there are definitely more from Armisen and Brownstein that we haven’t mentioned, like the former as a filmmaker at the “Blunderbuss Film Festival” answering questions such as “what did you shoot it on?” and the different takes the duo have on the business of music-making. If you have a favorite you want to vouch for, please weigh in in the comments.
Indiewire has partnered with IFC to kick off the fourth season of “Portlandia.” Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein return with their wonderfully unique rendering of Portland, OR. This season, they’ll be joined by a slew of notable new guest stars including Tunde Adebimpe (TV On The Radio), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Vanessa Bayer (“Saturday Night Live”), Kirsten Dunst (“Melancholia”), Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and returning favorites such as Kyle MacLachlan as Portland’s lovable Mayor. Catch the season four premiere this Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 10pm ET/PT — find out more here and check out a web series featuring Armisen and Brownstein as Malcolm and Kris, another memorable pair of “Portlandia” characters, here.