Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and an incredible array of guest stars take aim once more at the often horribly misguided, liberal lifestyles of the inhabitants of Portland, Oregon in the third season of the award-winning IFC comedy series, Portlandia. With the release of season three’s ten episodes and the “Winter Special” on Blu-ray and DVD on July 9, 2013 from Video Services Corp. (VSC), we can at last do with Portlandia as season two’s Doug and Claire did with Battlestar Galactica and marathon the series at the expense of all other worldly responsibilities! The again, now that I think about it, laughing for nearly 10 straight hours may actually be detrimental to one’s health. So view responsibly.
I’ve maintained since first viewing the series that Portlandia is an extraordinarily significant cultural text in that, although it specifically satires the cultural climate in Portland, the series in fact achieves satirical universality through its engagement with liberal politics. It’s all-too-common nowadays for comedic criticism to be directed solely at conservative ideals, which makes the unrelenting liberal self-effacement of Portlandia all the more welcome and, I dare say, necessary in the face of a predominantly two-party political system. Regardless of what side of the conservative/liberal divide you fall on, it’s important to realize that we all leave ourselves open to mockery and that no one and no set of beliefs is perfect or sacrosanct. And in that regard, Portlandia is not only hysterically funny, but an important reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.
And that leads me to my next, significantly more superficial point, which is that one of the greatest things about Portlandia, apart from the aforementioned cultural significance, is that you simply never what familiar face is going to turn up next. To that end, season three features an impressive lineup of guest stars that easily rivals the first two seasons. In addition to regulars Kyle McClachlan as the mayor of Portland and Kumail Nanjiani, the season also features appearances by Jeff Goldblum, Roseanne Barr, Jim Gaffigan, Matt Lucas, Patton Oswalt, George Wendt, Bill Hader, Juliette Lewis, Kurt Loder, No Doubt and Jack White to name a few. What’s more, Chloe Sevigny joins the cast for nine episodes, co-starring as Fred and Carrie’s new roommate.
Now, if there’s any criticism to be directed at the third season, it’s that the satire is somehow slightly less biting than in previous seasons. In part, this seems to stem from the overwhelming specificity of most of the satire, which is to say that the universality of its humor is diminished by certain experiential requirements placed on viewers for total identification. For instance, while the first bit featuring characters Peter and Nance in this collection is easy to identify with as Peter struggles to give up one of his favorite foods (pasta) for health reasons, their bed and breakfast arc in “Soft Opening” requires knowledge of bed and breakfasts that I just don’t possess. This isn’t to say that I didn’t find it funny or couldn’t understand the humor in it, merely that, having no experience with bed and breakfasts, it was decidedly less derisive than say, season one’s “Whose Dog Is This?” bit. That said, other sketches, such as those set in the feminist bookstore or the PSAs from the Portland Milk Advisory Board, exceed where “Soft Opening” failed to such an extent that this is really but a minor complaint.
By way of special features, the VSC release of Portlandia: Season Three includes two deleted scenes and tours of Portland with Kumail Nanjiani.