THE NEW YORKER: “Portlandia” presents a heightened version of the city’s twee urbanity: a company sells artisanal light bulbs, a hotel offers a manual typewriter to every guest, and a big local event is the Allergy Pride Parade. The mayor, played by Kyle MacLachlan, becomes an object of scandal when he’s “outed” as the bass guitarist in a middle-of-the-road reggae band. (The real Portland’s mayor, Sam Adams, who is openly gay, plays MacLachlan’s assistant on the show.) Armisen and Brownstein, wearing anthropologically precise wigs and outfits, portray most of the main characters: bicycle-rights activists, dumpster divers, campaigners against any theoretical attempt to bring the Olympics to Portland, animal lovers so out of touch that they free a pet dog tied up outside a restaurant. (“Who puts their dog on a pole like a stripper?”) Many characters recur, and, because they often seem to know one another, their intersections from sketch to sketch give the show the feel of a grownup “Sesame Street.” This childlike vibe has an edge to it, however; as an Armisen character explains at one point, Portland is “where young people go to retire.” MORE
FRESH AIR: Why Portland? Brownstein says it’s because of her hometown’s “incessant optimism.” In one episode of Portlandia, Brownstein and Armisen started a grass-roots campaign to prevent the Olympics from ever coming to Portland. In one episode of Portlandia, Brownstein and Armisen started a grass-roots campaign to prevent the Olympics from ever coming to Portland. “There’s a lot of other cities like Portland across the U.S., where people create these curated niche lives for themselves and they feel very special,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “Portland, I think, is a city that feels very good about itself. But it’s very sensitive, and people go to extreme measures to show how nice they are.” Portlandia makes fun — lightly — of Portland prototypes like freegans, local foodies and feminist bookstore owners, played in the show by the wig-wearing Armisen and Brownstein. The two explain that they based their bookstore sketch on an actual feminist bookstore in Portland called In Other Words, which contains a long list of rules on the wall for customers to follow. “I liked how anti-customer it was,” says Armisen. “But it’s a store. They want you to buy books. … So we thought, ‘Well, what would the people who work there be like?’ ” The resulting sketch features Armisen and Brownstein trying to enlighten others about feminism — even when it’s completely unwarranted. MORE
NEW YORK TIMES: Carrie Brownstein, the exuberant pixie rocker, says that if she had to live as one of the characters on her cult-hit sketch comedy series, “Portlandia,” she’d be Toni, the depressed and passively sadistic feminist bookstore owner. This is not an obvious choice. Best known for her guitar heroics in Sleater-Kinney and, more recently, in her third band, Wild Flag, Brownstein, 37, is often found wearing bright red lipstick, a fashionable shag and skinny jeans. Toni, by contrast, favors burlap sacks and never smiles. But as Brownstein explained last spring as we drove through the rain in Portland, Ore., just before she left on Wild Flag’s second tour, such distinctions are meaningless: “Toni is totally feminist, but the way she expresses this is as a punk rocker with all the attendant self-righteousness. She’s MacKaye from Fugazi. She’s got that exact same snobbery as indie rock, the self-governing esoteric rules, the fierce defensiveness about her way of life, the wariness of latecomers.” Brownstein is like a dry drunk on the subject of indie identity politics. MORE
RELATED: Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein (Wild Flag, Sleater kinney) from IFC’s hit original comedy Portlandia are embarking on a unique six city tour bringing the romanticized and dreamy rendering of Portland, OR to life for fans across the country. “Portlandia: The Tour” will feature Armisen and Brownstein, the co-creators, writers and stars of Portlandia, performing live music, presenting sneak-peek clips from the show’s second season and sharing personal anecdotes about the creation and inspiration of Portlandia and its variety of eccentric characters. “Portlandia: The Tour” begins in Portland, OR, on Tuesday, December 27, 2011. The tour ends with two New York dates: Music Hall of Williamsburg on January 20th and Bowery Ballroom January 21.