4 Things Watching The 'Portlandia' Premiere Won't Tell You About Portland
Do you remember the '90s? The 1990s? The 1890s? Because apparently they're all alive in Portland. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's brainchild has had some great moments over the last three seasons. We hope you had your Stumptown coffee this morning, because Season 4 of Portlandia premieres Thursday night on IFC at 10/9c. We here in Portland are excited.
As a new Portland resident, I have to echo the sentiment common among native Portlandians, which is that Portlandia gets a lot of things right. However, like all entertaining TV shows, it also conveniently leaves some important things out. I've noticed that Portlandia has forgotten some traits big and small about Portland, and as a proud citizen, I feel the need to point them out.
Portland's Natural Beauty
Portlandia has shot in many locations all over the city, but they haven't quite covered all the different sections of Portland. Yes, Portland includes many cutesy hipster shops and hotels, as well as a famously ugly central government building. And the houses on the East Side are adorable.
But Portland also has one of the largest parks in the nation, aptly named Forest Park. Although Portlandia had one skit about river rafting (eh old river!) they haven't captured the frequency with which real Portlandians go hiking. Hiking in a nearby park or forest has been suggested to me as a weekend adventure, an after-work relaxation technique, and (weirdly) a hangover cure.
Despite being blissfully ignorant about how to drive in the snow, many Portlanders even own four-wheel-drive Subarus for their excursions to more remote trails around Mount Hood or Multnomah Falls. In short, there are a lot of trees, and a lot of natural beauty.
Culturally, Portlandia usually hits all the right notes. Their running gag about different kinds of milk is perfect, and the various shades of hippies capture Portland's laid back attitude. However, Fred and Carrie have a blind spot when it comes to sports. We watch them, and we love them! (More on that in a minute.)
The Portland-Seattle Rivalry
Which bring us to the infamous Portland-Seattle rivalry.
Portland is indeed a magical place of fierce loyalty, and the accompanying hatred of our rivals in Seattle. But the truth is, whenever Portland doesn't have a particular sport team (like baseball or football), Portlandians tend to simply outsource their loyalty to Seattle. So it is entirely possible that a resident of Portland will both hate Seattle because it's soccer season, and love them because the Seahawks are winning. I have personally found this disorienting, but then I remember that both soccer teams (the Timbers and the Thorns) have adorable soccer hooligan fans.
I am not the first person to point out that both Portland and Portlandia have a diversity problem. Yes, the show accurately reflects the fact that Portland is predominantly white, and just once, a joke is made about "lily-white" skin.
Ironically, this joke occurs when Fred and Carrie visit LA, but at least the reference to Portland's troubling racial history is made. Sadly, beyond this one-off and a predominantly white cast, Portlandia largely ignores race.
So Portlandia doesn't exactly hit all of Portland's myriad of sections, activities, and problems. But to be fair to the show, GIRLS doesn't fully encapsulate the experience of being twenty-something living in Brooklyn. Nor did Sex and the City accurately portray the lives of most women living in Manhattan.
But Fred and Carrie's baby already comes so close to the truth that if they play their cards right this season, we could see more of the real Portland. Who knows, maybe they'll even make a soccer joke or include a person of color. We'll have to watch tonight and find out.