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Alia Shawkat talks “The Oranges” and how her Jersey character relates to “Arrested Development”

Alia Shawkat in The Oranges

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In “The Oranges,” two families live across the street from each other in West Orange, New Jersey. One family, the Ostroffs, have a wayward daughter (played by Leighton Meester) who comes home one Thanksgiving only to hook up with the father (played by Hugh Laurie) of the second family, the Wallings. This of course rains down ruin upon both families — which used to be so close, they were almost one family — and is the occasion for much delightful disdain by our whipsmart narrator, played by Alia Shawkat, whose Vanessa is Meester’s former BFF and Laurie’s daughter, giving her a unique and funny perspective on the proceedings. (“All right! It’s time to kill myself,” Vanessa quips at one key point.)

“Because it’s coming from a person who is very much in her own world,” Shawkat told IFC, “it’s a cool set-up. She’s in this mess, because she’s forced herself to be in it, because she still lives at home. If she had a healthy life and lived on her own, had a good job, and a boyfriend, it would be a very different reaction. But she’s like, ‘What the fuck? This is crazy!'”

Like Shawkat’s beloved character on “Arrested Development,” Vanessa is over it before it even happens — both of them have a “very dry disgust” for the events unfolding in their respective crazy families. The Bluths and the Funkes on “Arrested” “have a completely different moral system,” the actress points out. “‘Family comes first’ is the theme, but it’s really more about how dealing with a fucked-up family can be detrimental, especially to the children, because Maeby just wants to get attention all the time from her parents.”

“But with [the Wallings and the Ostroffs], it really was family first,” she added. “They had a dinner together every Sunday night, and other rituals, and yeah, they were somewhat bored, but it was a close family.” Consequently, Vanessa and Maeby “come from different places,” she said. (Coincidentally, “Arrested Development” takes place in Orange County, and while West Orange, New Jersey and Orange County, California are on opposite sides of the country, the two suburbs are a lot alike.)

Both Vanessa and Maeby, who are “too smart for their own good,” Shawkat said, “but they don’t really know what’s best for them.” If the actress were in either situation in real life, she would move out, she said — pronto. But even though that’s what Vanessa’s mother Paige (Catherine Keener) does, Vanessa stays, at least at first. “She’s not moving or anything,” Shawkat said. “She’s not accomplishing her own dreams. She’s bitter. She’s not feeling good about herself. She doesn’t have the confidence to be on her own.”

When the affair becomes public, hardly anyone reacts rationally, and the audience’s sympathies keep shifting. “You get to decide who you want to root for,” Shawkat. “You don’t know, is Paige crazy? The way she’s reacting, it’s almost comic in the beginning.”

So while some people throw punches, disfigure Christmas cards , stalk and hide in the bushes, and drive cars onto lawns to destroy holiday decorations, the more “it gives Vanessa a reason to be upset in the first place,” Shawkat said. “You know when you’re feeling like crap? You take it out on other people: ‘See? You fucked up. This is crazy.’ But really, it’s just her dealing with her own shit. She doesn’t know how to process that this is putting a mirror to her, in a way. ‘Fuck! This happened, and I’m still at home!'”

Which of course, eventually prompts her to put her own life in order. The solution she comes up with would also work for Maeby, now that she’s older. Will Maeby finally move out of the Bluth residence and strike out on her own? (And not just as a teen movie executive?) “It might be time!” Shawkat laughed. “Maybe she will!”


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…


A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.