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Portlandia: Season 4

Video Watchdog // Unrated // August 26, 2014
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted September 14, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Portlandia Season 4 DVD Review

Portlandia is like a safe haven for sketch comedy that comes gift-wrapped in a suave cool white bow tie. It's a confident, topical, and entertaining program that knows it's one of the best series around at this time. (After all, it's not like Portlandia has a lot of comedic competition to deal with these days). The series was created by and continues to be written by stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, along with Jonathan Krisel (who is the series director for each episode).

Of note is that Portlandia is from executive producer Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live), and that the series actually manages to out-funny the once great SNL (which has creatively struggled over the past several seasons). Krisel has also served as a writer for SNL over the years. As both a writer and director for Portlandia, the work that Krisel brings to the table is certainly relevant, as each episode has a wonderful pacing that is never boring but never too quick for the laughs to be genuine or well achieved.

Portlandia manages to be on the same level of comedic gold that the greatest seasons of SNL have had, and it does so by utilizing not only some of SNL's behind the scenes talent, but the talent of the former SNL cast member Fred Armisen (who was always a hilarious cast member) and brilliant co-star Carrie Brownstein, the guitarist of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag, who has little in the way of previous acting gigs (just a few small bit-parts mostly) but who united with Armisen to make a comedic video skit series called ThunderAnt which contributed a lot of the ideas which later became implemented into Portlandia.

The fruition of some of the sketch ideas (and characters such as the Feminist Bookstore owners) started on ThunderAnt, and it was the launching pad for their mutually rich collaborative efforts. Despite spending most of her time as a rockin' guitarist, Brownstein has the chops of a naturally born comedian. Lots of her material is so well delivered and realized that when I first started Portlandia, I'd wondered why I hadn't heard of her otherwise (as I had no realization at first of her work in popular rock groups). Brownstein is a huge talent and adds so much to this series, and is arguably the greatest asset (though I love all three of the main contributors efforts here).  

Largely because of the performances and the inventive characters created by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, Portlandia is one of the funniest series on television. The inventiveness and zany creativity that resides within each series episode is plentiful and always manages to find ways to surprise with popular series characters like rebellious biker Spyke and girlfriend Iris, Dave and Kath, Nina and Lance, and others.  It's fascinating how many different characters Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen perform. They make each "believable" within the fun skewered world of sketch comedy television, and it's often hilarious just to see how unique characters are on the show.

As per usual, another part of the fun resides from the stellar guest list which includes the likes of Kristen Dunst, Maya Rudolph, k.d. lang, Dan Savage, Nick Swardson, and others. Many of the most beloved guests who appeared during previous seasons return again, with Steve Buscemi, Annie Clark (otherwise known as musician St. Vincent), Jason Sudekis, director Gus Van Sant, and Jeff Goldblum make new appearances.

 Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) continues his role as Portlandia's mayor and continues to prove how great he is as an actor (he brings his all to these episode appearances and is a highlight in 3D Printer, an episode in which it is revealed that he bought the town a toy with his parents money, and, as it turns out - all funding for almost everything in the city goes back to his parents. The mayor gets into a disagreement with both parents and suddenly all of Portlandia has lost its financing for everything, and comedic hijinks ensue).

In the case of Jeff Goldblum, he makes so many regular cameo appearances that it's almost like he is also a main member of the Portlandia cast. Fans of the actor certainly won't mind him as a regular addition as he lends a lot of great comedic timing to all of his brief parts and makes each appearance a memorable one. (The best bit with him from Season 4 being his role as a salesman known as the 'Pull Out King", who sells pull out mattresses at "low, low prices").

Portlandia remains just as hilarious and fun with Season 4. This series is a perfect example of brilliant sketch comedy and how good the results can be with the right cast and team working together.  At a minimum, viewers can expect some huge laughs at times and a consistency in bringing the charm and smiles.  I laughed or smiled during Portlandia's fourth season so much more than I do during most other television series, and there's something to be said about any series capable of brining that much laughter to the world.  Fans will continue t o have a blast with season four and newcomers should just jump right in (and then back-peddle to see the previous season's episodes).

The DVD:


Portlandia arrives on DVD with a generally pleasing image that is better quality than many of the television-on-DVD releases of today's digital and High Definition marketplace. It's too bad the season wasn't released on Blu-ray like previous seasons were - a growing trend amongst too many comedic based series. Yet for a standard definition image, the quality is pretty good for the most part. There aren't any dramatic issues with compression quality on this set and the PQ looks clean, serviceable, and perfectly modern. It's only major limitation is its format; otherwise, this is a well produced DVD edition that present a pleasing 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen image.


The series is presented with a modest stereo surround mix that gives a 2.0 presentation for each of the episodes. This series hardly ever delves into audio territory that is too interesting or that would seem to shout out for an engaging surround sound presentation. More often than not it's presentation as a series is heavily based on the dialogue between the characters.  Standard DVD quality audio has been the norm for the series even on the previous Blu-ray releases so this set is similar to prior offerings. The dialogue reproduction is fine while everything else on the show is minimalistic as far as sound design (and the occasional music on Portlandia isn't quite as crisp or notable as it could have been with a higher quality soundstage).


Unfortunately, Portlandia - Season 4 contains absolutely nothing in the way of supplemental materials on this DVD release. The set's packaging is akin to previous seasons with a nicely designed slipcover (spot glossed on the image of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein). It's packaging contains slots for the discs and is entirely made of cardboard.

Final Thoughts:

Portlandia Season 4 is more of the same as seen in previous seasons... and in this case, that's an awesome thing. This is one of the most entertaining and humorous shows on all of television. It consistently finds ways to stay fresh and fun in each episode even while revisiting the same odd characters and settings. The heart of the show is found with the eclectic and enjoyable humor of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein. As per usual, the season's list of guest stars is rather large and the quality cameos help to keep things interesting.  Fans of the show absolutely cannot miss season 4 and newcomers are strongly encouraged to give it a whirl (you just might find the series as surprisingly hilarious and charming as I did).

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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Highly Recommended

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