The short answer is yes, and not really, in that order.
I didn’t think I’d like “Portlandia” much, because Fred Armisen never has done much for me in his time on “Saturday Night Live.” But now I totally understand what “SNL” godfather Lorne Michaels ever saw in him. The free-reign work he does here with co-star Carrie Brownstein (ex-Sleater-Kinney guitarist) quickly won me over and, more importantly, made me laugh out loud.
The quasi-sketch series is set in Portland, with Fred and Carrie playing thinly veiled versions of themselves, as well as other characters who weave in and out of these six outstanding episodes, such as owners of a feminist bookstore (sample title on the shelves: “Vaginas: An Owner’s Manual”). Ironically, the very people likely to enjoy it the most — smarter-than-thou hipsters — also are the very people “Portlandia” makes fun of the most.
Highlights include Kyle McLachlan’s recurring role as the city mayor (playing him not unlike Rob Lowe’s killer turn on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”), guest Heather Graham being text-seduced by Brownstein’s aforementioned bookstore owner (“I’m the one in the indigenous pantsuit. Meet me behind the bookshelf”), the meeting of the hide-and-seek club known as the Sherlock Holmies, and the sure-to-be-classic crafts commercial encouraging creatives to “Put a bird on it!”
Not everything works — namely the bits where Fred and Carrie can’t believe their good fortune that their maid is singer Aimee Mann. If only they’d put on a bird on it.
And onto channel partner “Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd” while they were at it.
Being a fan of “Arrested Development” vets David Cross and Will Arnett, I expected great things from “Todd Margaret,” but got only occasionally good ones.
Also set in Portland — well, for the first scene, at least — office temp Todd (Cross) is sent by his a-hole boss (Arnett) to London to blaze the sales trail for Thunder Muscle energy drink, which, as the joke predictably goes, tastes like crap and nobody wants. His attempts to push it on the UK are awkward, but not nearly as awkward as his advances at wooing cafe owner Alice (Brit-com star Sharon Horgan, who’s the definition of funny-sexy), who he can’t even impress by opening jars of jelly … because he can’t open jars of jelly.
“Todd Margaret” is funny, but only in scattered bits (each episode’s cat stinger, I must admit, is priceless) and snatches of absurdist dialogue (“I’m like … if ‘Rocky II’ fucked ‘Rocky IV,’ boom!” and “No, not ham farts, pancetta gas”) that haven’t quite meshed to reach a full potential you know exists. It’s like Jell-O taken out of the fridge too early: Sure, you could eat it, but why not wait a bit? —Rod Lott