Portlandia started out as an oddball experiment between SNL alum Fred Armisen and Riotgrrrl rocker Carrie Brownstein. The whole point was poking fun at the countercultures that have hit the mainstream in the PDX. Every character skewers a local stereotype — from “eat local” obsessives, to sexual experimenters, to BIKE RIGHTS! advocates.
Over the years, the stable of characters has grown as Fred, Carrie, and friends take us into a world where lifestyle is an exaggerated absurdity — but only barely exaggerated, allowing the show to cut deep and hit some great truths about modernity, nostalgia, and trends. As Shakespeare put it in Macbeth, “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Or in Portlandia terms, #Carrieiswoke.
Portlandia‘s writer’s room has always tackled food and drink trends with a nice dollop of cynicism, so we went back through the last six years of the show to find our favorite food and drink sketches. Here are our picks.
Don’t get mad yet. This isn’t exactly a food or drink related sketch, per se. But Nina’s need to have a safe word for sex is a classic skit with a foodie edge since Nina picks ‘Cacao.’ As the skit progresses Nina uses the word to the point that Lance can barely speak or move without Nina’s bullet delivery of ‘Cacao.’
COFFEE SHOP MANIFESTO
Poor baristas are always having to deal with asshole customers and jittery nerves from all that coffee. This is a classic the-employees-strike-back sketch that sees a ridiculously well bearded Armisen lose his cool (from way too much coffee surely) while a group of disgruntled barista’s pen a manifesto on coffee house conduct … that’s immediately ignored.
Word to the wise, don’t bother knocking on the bathroom door.
911 BEETS EMERGENCY
“It’s not blood. It’s beets.” Did you know eating beets can discolor your stool and urine? Well, you do now and it’s all thanks to Portlandia. This sketch feels like a great filler between the main story of the episode until Jeff-freakin’-Goldblum shows up and turns this one into an instant classic.
That’s called the Goldblum Effect. The man is just magical — even when covered in beet juice.
Kris and Malcolm try out a new vegan restaurant. That alone could have been enough of sketch until the left turn comes with a long line of farts from all the leafy vegetables and “ancient” grains. Then, much to the couple’s surprise, their waiter directs them to the restaurant’s ‘Fart Patio.’
This really seems like a worthwhile investment for any restaurateur, vegan menu or not. We all need fart patios.
Peter and Nance are the mild-mannered food explorers of Portlandia. They’ll try any diet and are always up for hitting new places to eat. They’re also wildly enthusiastic about those new experiences. Until Peter starts to think he’s too fat. The answer to his newfound fatness? Eliminating pasta from their diet. Madness ensues because it’s crazy to not eat pasta.
ARTISAN MOVIE THEATHER
“Are you tired of all the bland tasting movie food you’ve been getting over the years?” If the answer is yes, then this sketch is for you. The artisan concession stand is the perfect example of ridiculous and likely delicious food (sun-dried grapes FTW), replacing something more banal with the added wistfulness of excited but very incompetent employees.
Fred and Carrie hit the bar with a spot on cameo performance from The Lonely Island frontman Andy Samberg. The sketch hits the absurdity of modern “mixology” perfectly with Samberg’s bartender even spritzing the air around himself with bitters while he mixes a silly and overly complicated concoction with “charred ice.”
That being said, a ginger-based bourbon drink does sound pretty dope.
Jack McBrayer makes a great cameo as a poor dude who forgot his grocery bag. That poor puka shell wearing dude ends up being humiliated by the store’s employees over his lack of a bag and needs to buy a new one — which, of course, the store does not sell. It’s a good take on the silliness of extremism leaking into our grocery stores.
It also has McBrayer in two polo shirts with PUKA SHELLS around his neck!
WE CAN PICKLE THAT!
What starts out as a throwaway ad for a couple of pickling aficionados takes a turn down absurdity lane quite quickly. The pickling goes from eggs and beets to band-aids and shoe heels with Bryce Shivers and Lisa Eversman — who aren’t putting birds on things anymore evidently. The couple shows up in board meetings and around the city in their quest to pickle, well, everything.
The Order Grill sounds like a nightmare of design and over-thinking taken to the nth degree. The whole sketch is propped up by Armisen’s trademark oblivious confidence.
It should never be this hard to order a pastrami sandwich. Ever.
This one cuts close to the bone. We’ve all been invited to birthdays at times when money was tight and we didn’t really know what to do in the era #FOMO. Though, we probably didn’t consider being a driver for bank robbers to make some cash to attend a simple birthday party. The meat of the sketch is when Kumail Nanjiani pops up as a birthday loan officer at the bank. Rest assured, he knows what tapas is.
Season two of Portlandia ended with the classic episode Brunch Village where all our favorite characters come out to wait on line for Portland’s hottest new brunch spot. The whole episode is a testament to the strength of Portlandia’s characters and the ridiculous lengths people go to just to eat at a restaurant. It’s also hard choosing between Marionberry pancakes, turkey breast Benedict, and frittatas.
ALIKI FARMS CHICKEN
This is the sketch that launched the series. Peter and Nance’s decision to try the chicken goes deep into what local, organic, and humane means in the food world. The grilling of their server leads to Peter and Nance ending up in a cult-like chicken farm as sister wives to a wonderfully coifed Jason Sudeikis. This sketch set the tone for the whole series, skewering our obsessions over food and drinks.