Protecting ‘Portlandia’: Carrie Brownstein & Fred Armisen talk season 4

Mess with "Portlandia" and you may end up on the wrong side of a rake.
Mess with “Portlandia” and you may end up on the wrong side of a rake.

Over the past three seasons of “Portlandia,” Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and director Jonathan Krisel have perfected a revolutionary recipe that marries music and comedy with utter absurdity. The fourth season, which premieres next Thursday, furthers their cause, especially with a sketch called “The Celery Incident,” which went live online earlier this week.

In the sketch, Steve Buscemi plays a sales representative for celery, desperately trying to compete against other vegetable salesmen who have had recent fantastical, unlikely success with veggies like kale and Brussels sprouts.

“I think ‘Celery’ embodies — even though it’s more genre-specific than some of our other sketches — I think it really embodies the traits of the show that I think are the most successful,” says Brownstein, “which is taking a relatable, sometimes timely premise and veering into the absurd, and then hopefully veering even more into surreality, and then somewhere at the heart of this, having some relatable characters that are suffering through genuine and authentic relationship issues.”

Just because they use familiar ingredients for their recipe doesn’t mean the show is formulaic. Yes, you will see a lot of the characters you’ve seen in the previous three seasons, but in preposterous situations: Candace and Toni, the owners of Women and Women First bookstore, host a carwash fundraiser; Lance and Nina — Brownstein and Armisen’s gender-swapping couple — find themselves in conflict with Jeff Goldblum’s mattress salesman over a certain claim he has made that casts everything Lance stands for into doubt.

“We’ll have pictures of the characters on a bulletin board and we’ll have an idea for something,” says Armisen, “and then we kind of shift the idea to each character, like, ‘I wonder if they would be good for this?’ And then eventually it will just resonate right away, and you’ll know it’s perfect for a set of characters.”

“‘Portlandia.’ That’s what I do.”

With such a winning formula, it’s understandable that the “Portlandia” peeps would be protective of what they’ve created.

“We have worked for four seasons to make this world that feels a little bit specific and strange and hyper-real,” says Brownstein. “So we try and keep that world magic and special, but of course in the meantime we have had people from ‘SNL’ and friends on. There’s definitely an open-door policy, as long as it feels germane and doesn’t feel conspicuous to have things cross over.”

We’d be remiss not asking Armisen if he thought there would be any crossover with his new role as bandleader for “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” which also premieres next week (Monday night on NBC), but when it comes to inheriting Questlove’s seat, he suddenly turns even more protective.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he says, shifting the tone of the conversation into uncomfortable territory. “That’s something for my friend Seth and it’s fun and I don’t want to talk about it because this is about ‘Portlandia’ and Carrie is on the other line.”

He will allow, however, that he’s going to be able to take time off to work on “Portlandia.”

“It will be perfect,” he says, with a little less attitude. “My focus is ‘Portlandia.’ That’s what I do.”


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