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"Portlandia" Season Four DVD Review

Portlandia: Season Four DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Portlandia: Season Four (2014)
Show and DVD Details

Executive Producers: Jonathan Krisel, Andrew Singer, Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Lorne Michaels

Writers: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Jonathan Krisel, Karey Dornetto, Graham Wagner / Director: Jonathan Krisel

Regular Cast: Fred Armisen (Fred Armisen, Peter, Candace, Dave, Nina Carrico, Spyke, Doug, Malcolm Singer, Bryce Shivers, Brendan, Jamie, Joaquin, Benji, Santa Claus, Bill, The Bacon Guy, Kendall Hughes, and Various Others), Carrie Brownstein (Carrie Brownstein, Nance, Toni, Kath, Lance Oliver, Iris, Claire, Kris Singer, Lisa Eversman, Michelle, Trish, Nutmeg, Lillian, Loraine, Wendy Alexander, Sandra Paulson, and Various Others)

Recurring Cast Members: Kyle MacLachlan (Mr. Mayor), Kumail Nanjiani (Geoffrey Jacobson, Car Dealer and Others), Jeff Goldblum (The Pull Out King and Others), Annie Clark (Herself/Musician), Vanessa Bayer (Bank Teller, Writer), Matthew Schur (Matthew Harrison Weiss), Henry Cottrell (Ronald D. Moore)

Notable Guest Stars: Kirsten Dunst (Kim), Tunde Adebimpe (Himself), Ernest Adams (Ernie), Ellen Bloodworth (Old Woman), Jay Pharoah (voice of Jay-Z), Olivia Wilde (Ecoterrorist), Josh Frank (Josh), Steve Buscemi (Marty), Silas Weir Mitchell (FBI Agent), Jello Biafra (Himself), Duff McKagan (Himself), Mark Proksch (Sean), Kim Gordon (Herself), Maya Rudolph (Anita), Jeff Tweedy (Himself), Tuck Andress (Herself), Patti Cathcart (Herself), LaMarcus Aldridge (Himself), Damian Lillard (Himself), Robin Lopez (Himself), C.J. McCollum (Himself), Thomas Robinson (Himself), Paul Allen (Himself), Gus Van Sant (Himself), The Blazers Dancers (Themselves), Neil Olshey (Himself), Josh Homme (Josh), Dan Savage (Himself), Nick Swardson (Nick), Ed Begley Jr. (Father Timothy), Michael Nesmith (Mayor's Father), Mayor Sam Adams (Mayor's Assistant Sam), k.d. lang (Herself), Jason Sudeikis (Kim), Danny Bruno (Hiker), Graham Wagner (Walking Tour Guide)

Running Time: 226 Minutes (10 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-14 on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned
Season 4 Airdates: February 27, 2014 - May 1, 2014
DVD Release Date: August 26, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.95
Two single-sided discs (1 DVD-9 & 1 DVD-5) / Thin Cardboard Book in Slipcover
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy Portlandia: Season Four from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

"Portlandia", IFC's most successful original series to date by a wide margin, has pushed the deep cable channel into creative, offbeat comedy. It has opened doors for its stars-creators, showing Fred Armisen there is life after "Saturday Night Live" and revealing to Carrie Brownstein her entertainment career needn't be limited to music (she was recently hired to complete Nora Ephron's unfinished final script Lost in Austen). This sketch comedy show, executive produced by SNL creator and longtime overseer Lorne Michaels,
has won two costuming Primetime Emmys and will compete for two more significant awards at tonight's ceremony from its four 2014 nominations.

The rare current television series I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone with a sense of humor, "Portlandia" has entertained me about as much as any program still in production. Unfortunately, television shows, especially comedy ones, cannot delight forever. Their makers tire of the task ("Flight of the Conchords"), the talent ceases to engage ("The Office"), or the viewer simply stops caring enough to tune in (where I and many others stand on the interminable "The Simpsons").

Through three seasons, neither "Portlandia" nor I showed any signs of succumbing to one of the aforementioned fates and severing a relationship that had begun with On Demand viewings and evolved to home video reviews. Sadly, Season Four puts some writing up on the wall. The series, which was renewed through a fifth season in mid-2013, may be nearing its end, if not for viewership declines (ratings have been hard to come by and never very impressive) than for a dwindling supply of creativity.

Kath (Carrie Brownstein) and Dave (Fred Armisen) try to get everything done before their 15-minute parking expires.

Season Four finds "Portlandia" running out of steam. A lot of the episode-driving plots are flat, as they almost never were before. Guest star gets, like Kirsten Dunst, k.d. lang, and a bunch of other musicians I don't recognize, seem less inspired, more random and forced. The show's prevailing vibe -- good-natured spoofing of Portland's widespread open-mindedness, environmentalism, and culture (the place where the opening sketch so exhilaratingly declared "the dream of the '90s is alive") -- even seems to be wearing off or in need of adjustment, with sketches about religion, bigots, and feminism not seeming all that good-natured or funny.

While it's easy to point out some of the show's newly-developed faults, it's only because "Portlandia" was practically pitch-perfect through its first 27 episodes. Misfires were unusual and many of the sketches were funny enough (e.g. the B & B, canoe dancing, pasta withdrawal) to sustain multiple viewings without losing their luster. The show's success rate seems to dip from around 80-90% to more like 50-55% in Season 4. It's not easy to explain that change, apart from the obvious reality that it's tough to generate comedy on a rigid timetable. Six half-hour episodes were easy enough to produce with few expectations, no clear model, and no broad prior showcase for this creative team. Another ten episodes building upon fun characters over another summer in Oregon also proved no challenge. Some hints of fatigue crept in to Season 3, but Season 4 experiences more apparent struggles.

Nothing is terribly off. Few original characters are introduced, but recurring ones haven't yet worn out their welcomes. Kumail Nanjiani, a standout guest star from all three seasons is consultant and more frequent guest. Two writers, the returning Karey Dornetto and newcomer Graham Wagner, also join the original core of Armisen, Brownstein, and their fellow creator and always director Jonathan Krisel. I hesitate to place the blame on the new guy because his ideas clearly have to be vetted by the main trio, all of whom also receive executive producer credit and may increasingly need to shoulder the load.

Mr. Mayor (Kyle MacLachlan) tries to solve Portland's problems with a 3D printer. Father Timothy (Ed Begley Jr.) asks you to consider attending his fun, flexible church.

"Portlandia" still gets much right. It is full of witty callbacks within individual episodes and throughout the season; for instance, guest star characters often appear in multiple sketches within the same episode. Still, some of the regular characters have more untapped potential than others, a fact that seems reinforced again and again.
By four seasons in, eccentric, endearing personalities like Kyle MacLachlan's easygoing Mr. Mayor no longer just belong to their actors and writers, but us fans as well, and it's tough to see them suffer through sketches that aren't working, sometimes sketches that make up the bulk of an episode.

The season's running gag, modeled after the different milk flavors of Season 3, sees Trish (Brownstein) and Jamie (Armisen) try to get pets adopted from Portland Pet Haven. At most, it may make you crack a smile.

"Portlandia" hits home video this week and for the first time, no Blu-ray edition is offered, implying that sales on that format have not been strong enough to justify the production costs. That's not the only change or disappointment that VSC's two-disc Season 4 DVD supplies, as you'll see down in the bonus features section of this review.

Ecoterrorists (Carrie Brownstein and Olivia Wilde) can't agree on an action plan. Steve Buscemi earned an Emmy nomination for his guest appearance as Marty, a downtrodden man desperate to pull celery sales up.

Disc 1

1. Sharing Finances (22:38) (Originally aired February 27, 2014)
Following disputes over who should pay for dinner, Claire and Doug open a joint checking account and continue to fight over finances. A woman (Kirsten Dunst) is haunted by ghosts dispensing conflicting health advice. A couple rushes through errands in a 15-minute parking spot. A man's blackboard messages attract fans, including one who discovers the unlikely source of the sayings.

2. Ecoterrorists (22:37) (Originally aired March 6, 2014)
Ecoterrorists strike a facility that tests on animals, but can't agree on a technique, ultimately standing up for a kid who doesn't like chores. Bryce and Lisa advocate renting. Dave vows to coach insomniac Catherine on sleeping. A couple looks at renting a $5,000/month loft. Candace and Toni try to raise rent money with a car wash. Fearing he'll be exposed for ignorance at a Jay-Z concert, Fred gets a crash course in hip hop history.

3. Celery (22:37) (Originally aired March 13, 2014)
Marty (Steve Buscemi), a man overseeing the declining sales of celery, meets with bacon's overseer who makes an unusual request. Emergency callers' problems are all the result of beets. Order Grill complicates the food-ordering process. Unable to keep up with e-mails, tweets, Facebook, etc., Carrie declares social bankruptcy. Gutter punks are joined by a depressed desk worker.

A furniture salesman (Jeff Goldblum) has his moniker The Pull Out King questioned. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are two of five Portland Trail Blazers questioning the direction that Candace and Toni have given their cheerleaders and team.

4. Pull-Out King (22:37) (Originally aired March 20, 2014)
Self-proclaimed "Pull-Out King" Lance disputes the possibility that Nina could be pregnant with his child and then confronts a furniture salesman (Jeff Goldblum) who has been using his title.
A man awakens from a nearly 30-year coma, bothered by the ubiquity of yuppies. Portlanders tailgate at a Prairie Home Companion concert. A baby present is delivered ten years too late. Carries dates a tax lawyer whose purchase of a bass guitar concerns many.

5. Spyke Drives (22:37) (Originally aired March 27, 2014)
Bicycle rights guy Spyke has to get a car for work, which Lance helps him buy. Peter very slowly drives Nance to the hospital after she suffers a puzzle injury. A man keeps his dinner guests with poetic waxing and long stories. The Pet Sounds guy asks a lot of questions about a band. Fred and Carrie's yard sale is a bust until Mr. Mayor acquires everything at a discount to open Cafe Y2K. Doug and Claire treat each other like they treat their pet dog.

6. Bahama Knights (22:37) (Originally aired April 3, 2014)
Peter and Nance attend a concert of his ex-wife's (Maya Rudolph) band Bahama Knights, making for an awkward reunion that pulls the couple apart. Fred wants to make a documentary about the Beatles. Partygoers talk like Renaissance people and rockers. A musician with an ordinary suburban upbringing records a song. The newly-reunited and expanded Bahama Knights sing "Banana Daiquiri."

7. Trail Blazers (22:37) (Originally aired April 10, 2014)
Feminist bookstore owners Candace and Toni make over the Portland Trail Blazers' cheerleaders and then have to cheer up the team itself. Smoothie maker Joaquin gets his hair caught in the blender. A woman goes in for tattoo removal. A sheltered dog meets the Gutter Punks' pet. A couple has their shirts handmade in conditions that increasingly resemble a sweatshop. The Can'ts award Kickstarter crowdfunding request videos.

Santa Claus (Fred Armisen) tries to keep Christmas exciting in an age of online shopping. Driver Kim (Jason Sudeikis) is the lone man on a bus full of feminists in season finale "Getting Away."

Disc 2

8. Late in Life Drug Use (22:37) (Originally aired April 17, 2014)
A middle-aged married couple carefully plans to try drugs. To keep Portland weird, the Mayor cancels a Gay Pride Parade in favor of a Bigot Parade. Punslingers come up with punny names for businesses. People in tree costumes urge an aspiring writer to use notebooks more sparingly. Carrie's visiting brother (Nick Swardson) and his boyfriend (Josh Homme) subvert her expectations for a gay couple. Toni and Candace have questions for police officers investigating a series of nearby break-ins. Spyke and Iris are disappointed by a Thai restaurant whose rave review in a weekly reeks of conspiracy.

9. 3D Printer (22:37) (Originally aired April 24, 2014)
The Mayor unveils Portland's new 3D printer, which it's revealed is the latest purchase of his parents, who cut him off financially. Father Timothy (Ed Begley Jr.) advertises the viability of an accommodating church with vision boards and acupuncture. A community college art class encourages attention-grabbing McDonald's art. Santa Claus tries to keep Christmas exciting in an age of online shopping. A perfume commercial director has trouble communicating his ideas. While Lance mourns the loss of a pet lizard, Nina discovers her inner mechanic.

10. Getting Away (22:37) (Originally aired May 1, 2014)
In another ambitious "Portlandia" season finale, three pairs of characters wind up in nearby New Beavertown. There, a man named Kim (Jason Sudeikis) faces resistance as the driver of a feminist road trip led by Candace and Toni. Peter and Nance join a walking tour, then get lost while relying on a cartoon map. Kath and Dave go nuts in a fleece store. When a dam breaks, the town is in danger of flooding.

Peter (Fred Armisen) and Nance (Carrie Brownstein) reunite with the Bahama Knights song "Banana Daiquiri."

VIDEO and AUDIO

On something as cinematically shot as "Portlandia", you immediately miss the detail and sharpness of Blu-ray. Still, the show looks good enough in this DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, if clearly not as good as it does in HD broadcasts. As usual, sound is offered exclusively in Dolby 2.0 stereo, rendering the mix less potent than it should be. Disappointingly, instead of English SDH subtitles, VSC only includes closed captions, which will be of no use to those watching via an HDMI connection.

Carrie is overwhelmed with email alerts on the Portlandia: Season Four DVD main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Surprisingly and disappointingly, there are no bonus features whatsoever included here.
Past releases of the show held deleted scenes, Internet shorts by Armisen and Brownstein, and even a tour of Portland. It's unfortunate to suddenly get nothing with no decrease of the set's list price.

The main menu sets silent clips from the season to Washed Out's theme song "Feel It All Around" in a space behind the cover art pose. Submenus are silent and static.

As always, packaging is kept environmental and thin, with the two discs held in a seemingly recycled cardboard envelope that is topped by a slipcover of the same material with different artwork.

Trish (Carrie Brownstein) and Jamie (Fred Armisen) encourage pet adoption all season long to minimal amusement.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Portlandia" is no longer the hotbed for hilarity it once was, but it still entertains on a fairly frequent basis. VSC's DVD disappoints for its complete void of bonus features and lack of a Blu-ray alternative. Nonetheless, the show remains good enough to recommend seeing in this convenient fashion.

Buy Portlandia: Season Four from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

Buy from Amazon.com

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Portlandia: Season 1 Portlandia: Season 2 Portlandia: Season 3
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Reviewed August 25, 2014.



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