‘Portlandia’ Recap: “Brunch Special”
“This feels like a pancake day.”
It’s been a little over four months since Portlandia‘s season two finale “Brunch Village,” and Fred and Carrie returned on Friday for a slightly-longer director’s cut of the episode followed by a 20-minute black-and-white faux documentary. Much of Portlandia‘s strengths and weaknesses stem from its reliance on wringing out a one-note joke for all it’s worth, but the combination of having more airtime time to play with and the choice of depicting director Jonathan Krisel as the most finicky and self-absorbed Portland artist really proves how much this show practices what it preaches, or how much it loves what it parodies. For a more plot-heavy review of the episode you can read my recap from March here, but if you haven’t seen “Brunch Special” yet, here are three reasons why you should:
Who knew that the tall blonde standing behind Peter and Nance a few months ago actually had her own complete storyline in which she passes out from the Master Cleanse only to be rescued by a hunky doctor camped out among the brunch villagers? The soft-focus shots of these two Hollister model types making out among the gritty artists and musicians was like seeing what would happen if soap opera stars were dropped into an alternate hipster universe, but at the end of the day, apparently brunch unites us all. The same goes for the angry guy in line who yells out a few choice phrases (“Sixteen people for brunch? REALLY?!”) and the boy who tips line-standers off about wait time and the status of the current brunchers in exchange for cash.
“Brunch Village” didn’t totally succeed in making the line feel like its own world, but when the boy runs up and down selling water like a New York newsboy and the blonde girl is off having her fling and the angry guy hassles the food critic for “blowing up” his spot (“The Food Channel called, and um, they uh, they got a new gig for ’em, it’s called uh, Taste These Nuts, my man, why don’t you review these nuts right here?”), the line — not Fisherman’s Porch — becomes the true hot spot.
As Portlandia‘s co-creator, writer, and director, Jonathan Krisel plays a huge part in fine-tuning the show’s distinct brand of weirdness, so it was cool to see him star in the behind-the-scenes documentary following “Brunch Special” while Fred and Carrie are relegated to sitting on a couch in costume for 314 days while he tries to find a marionberry pancake that’s worthy enough to be shot for the show. Whereas most of Portlandia seems to straddle the line between mockery and admiration, Krisel doesn’t hold back in creating a completely eye-roll-worthy, Instagramesque filmic quest while portraying himself as a completely selfish and stereotypical artiste in the process, with no regard for the rising blood pressure of producer David Cress or the many extras and crew members he has to feed and pay for overtime work while he skips around in a barren berry field.
The Krisel journey features my favorite combination of Portlandia cameos so far, because who better to compliment the food master Bobby Flay than comedy pros like Lorne Michaels and Emily Spivey? When nobody else understands his aesthetic pickiness and disdain for the art department’s habit of “going broad” with the pancakes, Krisel turns to Portlandia executive producer Lorne Michaels. “I’m more interested in drama at this point,” Krisel tells him. “Riight, and what if you’re wrong?” Michaels replies. “Well, we’ll address that in post.” “Probably the best way for it to work is if they’re just amazing,” Michaels advises before hooking Krisel up with Bobby Flay, who bursts Krisel’s bubble by pointing out that marionberries are just blackberries. Flay’s interactions with Krisel also made for some great moments: “Oh it’s a cooking show?” he asks, confused, to which Krisel replies, “It’s a deep cable, like, quirky, umm…” “Like when you say deep, like the channel is three digits?”
But despite the many stars in both parts of the episode — Tim Robbins, Kyle MacLachlan, Ed Begley Jr., and more — it was Emily Spivey’s brief but hilarious performance as the angry IFC VP of Development that draws the most laughs (from me, at least) as she freaks out about Krisel’s dragged-out mission for berries and what it means for programming on the Friday 10PM slot: “Like they’re looking for some kind of berry, they’ve got people trying berries…it’s like, if we air Pulp Fiction one more time, there’s gonna be riots in the streets.” Amen to that, and though this redux special might have been too heavy on the weird and light on the laughs, it’s still brilliant in the way it doubles up on its metatextuality and allows Krisel to shine as a douchey control freak. Maybe he’ll show up again in season three?
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.