The final season of Portlandia is on the way, and it already looks like it'll go out with a bang. In just three minutes, a new Season 8 Portlandia sketch speaks to workplace gender dynamics regarding equality and sexual harassment — all with a brilliant comedic twist. And the timing really couldn't be better. Coming up on the one-year anniversary of 2017's epic Women's March and in light of the sexual assault claims toppling corporate America's patriarchal foundations, the Portlandia sketch will likely strike a chord with any woman in the workplace.
The award-winning sketch comedy series takes on these relevant and highly controversial topics, and makes them funny and relatable as hell. Yet the comedy in the piece still reflects much more serious, deep-rooted issues. The sketch takes place at a law firm office in south-east Portland. In a meeting, the boss Paul (Fred Armisen) announces that after 17 years with the firm, female colleague Cathleen Drake (Carrie Brownstein) has been named new partner and first female partner.
In the room, where Cathleen is one of three women, she attempts to give a brief thank you speech, acknowledging why it's been a challenge as a woman in the work force, when her boss chimes in and insists that his compliment about her eyes that one time wasn't sexual harassment... right? Her many attempts to continue her speech fail when the men in the office eagerly hop on the same train and narcissistically ask, "I'm not bad, right?" Thus, Cathleen is again dismissed and the old habits die hard.
The fictional female character may have finally climbed the ladder, but she can't even fully enjoy her moment because her male coworkers (including the janitor) need to know they're OK and supported. Oh, the irony.
Through this, one issue the sketch obviously faces head-on is sexual harassment and assault. What started as an exposé of former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, published in October by The New York Times, has turned into a national movement of women coming forward about assault in Hollywood, politics, and beyond. As the domino effect continues, "it's been a confusing season for America's working men," as described by The New York Times, as many men are now questioning if they crossed the line or enabled the behavior with flirting and more.
The sketch also brilliantly reflects the notion that harassment isn't about sex, but about power. The women aren't asking, "I'm not bad, right?" because they're clearly not the ones with power in this scenario. Cathleen is physically outnumbered by men, including the one male who feels dismissed and insulted when she doesn't address him because he's on the phone. Cathleen passive aggressively tells him and the office, "I've had 17 years of rampant sexism in the office, but I'm so sorry that you had two seconds of discomfort."
This addresses other hot topics: male ego and double standards. Paul tells the male employee on the phone, "That must have been humiliating for you to think you were in the hot seat for that long." Recently, shows like American Horror Story have spoke to the "humiliated man" and the volatility and repercussions of making a man feel embarrassed.
This sort of commentary, of course, is greatly inspired by the recent actions of President Trump, particularly in the election debates. In her new memoir What Happened, Hillary Clinton details Trump's harassment (like looming over her, calling her names, making faces at her) and acknowledges that such behavior is significantly more tolerated if it's coming from a man versus a woman.
The man on the phone (aka the Trump in this scenario) openly shows his emotions and seeks validation, but doesn't get questioned for any it, instead, he gets emotional support from his boss. Yet Cathleen (or the Hillary) had to remain calm, cool, and collected without running the risk of getting called inappropriate names and being deemed unfit for the job.
As portrayed in the sketch, women are finally feeling liberated to speak their truth, while men seem to be too worried about their own well-being to actually listen and be a vehicle in the change. In her recent New York Times op-ed, Amber Tamblyn explained how female salvation is being tainted by the male's desperate search for redemption. "Why are we obligated to care about salvaging male careers when we have just begun to tell the stories that have plagued us for lifetimes?" she asked.
There's a lot to unpack in Portlandia's short new sketch, but in just a few minutes, it somehow gets it all across. The new season is set to air on IFC starting on Jan. 18.