Fred Armisen, of “Saturday Night Live,” and Carrie Brownstein, formerly of the band Sleater-Kinney and currently of Wild Flag, don gender-bending costumes, floppy wigs and peculiar accents in their highly improvised comedy series, “Portlandia.” The show, the highest rated program network IFC has ever aired, just kicked off its second season. While the show is staged as a satire of the famously progressive city, Portland, its send-up of hipster culture, from farm-raised poultry to oppressively offbeat indie bands, elicits a striking sense of familiarity — “Portlandia” is just as much a comedy about Austin as it is about Portland. Below, we connect the hipster threads between “Portlandia’s” best sketches and their Austin counterparts.
In “Portlandia”: “I don’t have a driver’s license! I don’t need it!” This clip, of Armisen aggressively biking through Portland’s Pearl District as a gruff, punky bicyclist, is less than two minutes long, but is a precise skewering of the sense of self-importance huffed by some hardcore “biker’s rights” enthusiasts.
In Austin: Residents, namely UT students, are all too familiar with the bicyclists that zip across campus, some in every direction humanly possible. For everyone who has been cut off by, run into and made to wait in a long line of traffic for one of our pedaling classmates, “Portlandia’s” depiction is almost too dead-on to believe.
In “Portlandia”: Armisen and Brownstein play Toni and Candace, the incredibly judgmental and unhelpful proprietors of the fictional Women & Women First bookstore, where no one is able to leave without suffering one of their ill-conceived feminist barbs. In one episode, Toni (Brownstein) chastises Heather Graham’s personal journal: “That sounded more like a brag journal. A journal should be a document of misery.”
In Austin: Austin’s own feminist bookstore, BookWoman, is decidedly less vitriolic — in fact, it’s a pretty standard genre bookstore. However, the likelihood of finding booksellers as unhelpful as Toni and Candace isn’t at all specific to feminist shops. Really, what “Portlandia” decries is not necessarily the bookstores themselves, but the occasional pitfalls made by some in the name of feminism.
In “Portlandia”: Ordering a meal is comparable to the Spanish Inquisition, especially if you are to determine the methodological philosophy your chicken dinner was raised in — though it helps that the restaurant that Armisen and Brownstein are dining at keep a dossier on their entire meat selection. “His name was Colin,” their waitress says as she hands them a file on their main course. Unsatisfied with this level of information, they travel 30 miles outside of town to gauge the veracity of their food’s organic upbringing.
In Austin: While it’s hard to imagine any local eatery holding documents on all their meat, the occasional snobbery faced by shoppers of Whole Foods, whose headquarters serves as a mini-epicenter of downtown, can feel just as grueling and — at times — superfluous. Every shopping decision can feel rife with implications.
In “Portlandia”: As the Roving Singles, Armisen and Brownstein are the musical accompaniment at an acupuncturist’s office, and they’re hilariously out of touch playing their songs while a client is laying facedown with needles in her back. “Every time you hit a high note it drives the needles deeper ... it hurts,” she says. A perfect encapsulation of how some indie bands are so twee and quirky as to be insufferable — quite literally in this case.
In Austin: As the “live music capital of the world” with a mantra of “keeping Austin weird,” our encounters with offbeat local acts are about as regular as the sunrise. Plenty are silly, many are weird, but it’s all part of Austin’s sunny, hippie charm. You don’t live here without at least some appreciation for all things off-kilter.
Photo Credits: Danielle Villasana, Lawrence Peart, Trent Lesikar| Daily Texan Staff. Portlandia photos courtesy of IFC.