On January 21, 2011, the series premiere of a new IFC sketch comedy series called Portlandia opened with co-creators Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen exclaiming “the dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland” while surrounded by hipster types. Seven seasons, two Emmys, and one Peabody later, the brainchild of the Sleater-Kinney band member and the Saturday Night Live alum is coming to an end. The eighth and final season of Portlandia premieres this Thursday at 10 pm ET/PT, and judging by what Brownstein and Armisen told Uproxx, it sounds like business as usual for the team.
Except, of course, when it’s not. Between recent pushback from local businesses, the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, and the Oregon wildfires that were raging nearby during our visit, everything seemed far from “usual.” All of this weighed heavily on the minds of the Portlandia team members, just as the ashes from the fires weighed down foliage and traffic lights. Yet despite what Brownstein called the atmosphere’s “underpinning of doom,” she and Armisen agreed that Portlandia had been a wonderful thing for everyone involved and that audiences wouldn’t be disappointed with its final season.
How has the city of Portland changed, in terms of what inspired you over the past seven seasons?
Fred Armisen: It’s changed a lot. As the show has gone on, it feels a little bit like it’s been less about the city specifically and more about the characters getting to know each other. As the years went on, it became a little more internal, more about relationships. Portland served as the framework for the show in the beginning. I mean, it still is. You might see it on screen, and things might look a little different — some new condos here and there.
Carrie Brownstein: Everyone is dead and pregnant. No, but seriously, one nice thing about sketch comedy is that you don’t necessarily need… Like, the expectation isn’t the same as it was for, say, The Sopranos, Girls, Six Feet Under or anything else like that. But we did take it into consideration. We do have one episode that, I think, is a summation of everything that has some sentimentality to it. Though we didn’t want anything that would feel too on the nose.
Armisen: It should still be a show that you can watch any season of, whenever you want, interchangeably.
Has this show changed your relationship with this city?
Armisen: It has intensified it. I mean, we’re in people’s homes. When I first came here, I never knew what it was. I was like, “What is this?” “This is Northeast.” I didn’t know what that meant at first, but now I recognize it. I know what part of town I’m in when I’m in it.
Brownstein: Right. It has definitely intensified my feelings of protectiveness for this city. I grew up in Washington state and I have lived here in Portland since 2001. There are just so many things that are unique and wonderful about this city. I’ve been able to explore that in a very literal, tactile way with this show. Like Fred said, we’re in people’s homes and businesses. As someone who is an introverted hermit, it has forced me to go out into the community and I value that a lot. As things have changed so quickly with how we all communicate with one another, I feel so fortunate to get to interface with the people here directly. This has instilled something lasting in me, about being among actual people. That’s the thing that feels the most significant, and it’s what I want to protect and nurture so dearly. How you get to know people and how you come to understand different points of view. You don’t necessarily get to do that when you work on a show that doesn’t shoot on location. I love this city more than I ever have.
What effect, if any, do you think Portlandia has had on Portland?
Armisen: I have no idea. I can’t measure what a TV show on cable has on a city. It’s hard for me. I don’t have that information in front of me to be able to answer you accurately.
Brownstein: It was interesting hearing there were actual statistics because I never think about it in a quantifiable way. I think part of the problem is that most people don’t experience things in terms of quantifiable sums. Instead, they think in terms of qualifiable things, and when people look out and they see the differences in the city, our show becomes an easy target of blame for what has changed. I think that is a sort of paltry way for assessing how Portland itself has changed. When you look at San Francisco and other cities on the West Coast, it was inevitable that Portland would suffer — if you want to use that term — or benefit from the same growths and depressions they’ve encountered. We’ve been a focal point for people in this, and because it’s a show that is in conversation with the city which is in conversation with itself, it’s hard not to think there’s an immediate connection.
As someone who was here before the show even began and during its production, I can’t really tell. Though I don’t think the condos are because of us. It does affect tourism quite a bit, but I think the city was well on its way to changing before we came along. I didn’t know if anyone would have understood “Dream of the ’90s” when we first did it, but everyone got it. They got it because it already existed. We didn’t introduce that concept. Our show started at a time during the Obama administration when it felt like we were living in a post-whatever society. Post-race, post-gender, post-everything. That was the house we built the show on. All we had to do was decorate it. Now it seems that may have been a terrible foundation.