After last week’s episode in which Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and a Thai restaurant/alt-weekly staff ruled the comedy roost, Portlandia’s second-to-last episode of the fourth season pales in comparison. While Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and team continue to poke fun at the trends du jour—from 3D printing to the hipsterizing of religion—this week’s punchlines often miss their marks.
The opening sketch is a commercial featuring guest star Ed Begley Jr. as Father Tim, a man of the cloth, flanked by sidekicks Sister Carrie (in a Flying Nun habit) and Fred as a deranged-looking altar boy. Begley, playing the straight man, asks Portland to consider church as an “option” to other soul-soothing techniques like massage, meditation, yoga and acupuncture. Forget dogmatic, organized religion; Father Tim says he’ll provide “disorganized” religion. (The trio rips papers off the desk on cue.) Instead of prayers, his church can create “vision boards” (aka Pinterest for paper). And of course, his church ditches the organ music for live rock ’n’ roll.
While the recruitment video has all the right intentions and elements, it lacks zany, catchy one-liners or off-kilter visuals. The only thing funny about the sketch is Fred’s creepy, spaced-out stare into the distance, making us believe that he’s either in the throes of religious ecstasy or doing Ecstasy. (He’s been using that look a lot recently, and while in some instances it’s tiresome, the looked worked in the scenes with Begley.)
Portlandia continues to wrangle the guest stars with Kyle MacLachlan reprising his role as the Mayor. Only in this week’s episode, he wasn’t the cool reggae-playing mayor of the first season’s “Mayor is Missing” episode. This Mayor is a spoiled, whiny trust fund baby who relies on his parents to fund most of the city’s projects, from bridges to a hospital wing to the new 3D printer that ushers Portland into first-class cityhood. (Keep an eye out for guest Mike Nesmith of The Monkees, who plays the Mayor’s father. We almost didn’t recognize him without his knit cap.)
Other sketches in the episode focus on the Mayor with Fred and Carrie trying to repair his relationship with his parents as they’ve cut him (and consequently the city) off from any more money. The highlight of the Mayor’s storyline is his appearance before the Portland city council, with the members upset about the budget crisis caused by his familial rift.
Councilmembers ask him how they’re going to pay for roads and schools in their districts. The Mayor, in all earnestness, comes up with a great solution: the 3D printer, printing out one brick at a time. (The Mayor has a thing for printers. Remember that he named his energy-sucking laser jet printer “Prince” in Season 3.) Some of the best lines of the episode come in this scene, with one councilmember asking, “Can we print a new attitude for you, Mr. Mayor?”
Other skits in the episode not only lacked laughs, but were also … boring. The “Christmas is dead” bit with Fred as Santa Claus, tackled the issue of online shopping and the era of instant gratification and quick delivery. The scene went on far too long, and ended with a reindeer taking a piss. (This was probably the scene’s highlight, which tells you a lot.)
Another unfunny segment focuses on a commercial shoot for perfumes Frolic Rain and Whisperia, with Fred playing a clueless director (shocker) who leaves the set to pick up his girlfriend at the airport. Crewmembers follow along and document the reunion, which then evolves into the Whisperia commercial. This scene’s a head scratcher; either that or we must have blinked and missed the humor.
Two storylines saved the episode from complete failure. Carrie’s amusing portrayal of sensitive mechanic Lance, who can’t stop crying over a dead pet frog, was made all the more awesome by dropping in a reference to Noah and Allie from The Notebook. And Fred’s channeling of a community college art class instructor was pretty entertaining, especially when he tells the class to make “statement art”—work that shocks, surprises or horrifies. His prompt for the students? Paint Ronald McDonald doing something violent or crazy—posing with guns or strung out on heroin. There’s a head-exploding kicker at the end of this story that takes place in an Urban Outfitters. It’s completely off-the-wall, but it worked, which is more than we can say for many of the sketches in “3D Printer.”
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.