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Carrie Brownstein tells us all about the third season of Portlandia

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As you have probably heard, the new season of Portlandia kicks off tonight at 10/9c with back-to-back episodes. We talked to Portlandia star, writer and creator Carrie Brownstein about what to expect this season:

Hi Carrie, as you embark on season three, did you ever think Portlandia would make it this far?

We didn’t go into season one with any expectations for the show We made one episode, one season at a time. It’s a pleasant surprise that people are responding positively to our creative effort.

Does the show get easier to write?

It’s just as challenging if not more challenging and, honestly, we never want it to feel easy. I’m always skeptical of things that feel too facile.

This time we were interested in season long narrative arcs, like what we were seeing in our favorite shows like Homeland and Game of Thrones. We wanted more conceptual entities, more story based ideas, more about ‘Who are these people?’ and then ‘Which of these scenarios do they lend themselves to?’ We spend a lot of more time being deliberate about endings and really making sure that there is a story. Those are all basic tenets of good story writing, but when you’re doing a sketch you can get wrapped up in improvising, so this season we really worked on having story arcs and endings in place. We focused on building an infrastructure in which we could improvise because the dialog is mostly improvised. There were some growing pains, but we all feel like it paid off. There’s more opening for the audience to relate.

Who else is in your writers’ room?

Along with Fred and Jonathan, there’s Bill Oakley, who writes and also produces. Last season we worked with Karey Dornetto who was at Community, but now she is writing for The New Normal. So then Chelsea Peretti came in as a consulting writer. We would love to have her as a regular contributors.

What’s the Portlandia writers’ room like?

It’s pretty traditional. There’s a bulletin board with index cards and we put everything up on it. Sometimes an idea will become a line in a different episode or show up as a character trait. Sometimes will come up with full-fledged sketches and have to determine which character that sketch is for. The room ends up covered in index cards and you think the season is written, but then you realize there are no endings, nothing is fleshed out. There are just momentary rewards. Then we start organizing things by episode, get wraparounds, going off and writing individual scripts. It’s very collaborative.

As someone who hasn’t written for other television shows before, what was the learning curve like for you?

The first year I was nervous. I knew what the process would involve pitching.
Being in a band and writing a riff has a some of that. The first year we had Alison Silverman working with us, she was a writer for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and I kind of operated under her tutelage that year and she was wonderful and supportive and Fred and I had a great rapport. Jonathan had done some writing but neither he nor Fred had really written for their own shows before, so while there was a learning curve, we were all on a similar kind of starting point. We weren’t trying to emulate another show we had worked on, because none of us had really done that before. There was no other set of rules or infrastructure.

What’s the difference in the creative process between being in a band vs writing for Portlandia?

It’s easier to describe the ways that they are analogous. One person comes up with an idea and someone says, “What if instead of …” and it goes from there. It’s like you have a song and you come up with an album. There really are more similarities than differences. The way you add on ideas is kind of similar. The main difference with Portlandia is that we don’t finish something until it’s shot. There’s so much improvisation that the sketch isn’t finalized until it’s shot.

You don’t write dialogue?

We write some as placeholders, but 90% of the show is improvised. When Fred and I go into a scheme we climb this scaffolding, we know where to end up in the scene. The first season we didn’t have that and we would get lost in the scene and they would build a story out of what was essentially us throwing words at the wall. Now there’s improvisation, but we have a goal in every scene. We spend a lot more time writing and being very deliberate about endings and really making sure that there is a story. What we have learned from each season to season is that the characters have to have a relationship within their setting. We can’t just be a situation or a concept. We have to have a goal. There has to be stakes.

After season one’s now ubiquitous Put A Bird On It! and season two produced “We Can Pickle That!” did you feel any pressure to come up with a catch phrase for season three?

Absolutely not. We are a television show not a marketing company. We leave that to the audience to use their imagination. Everybody has a different relationship to the show and it’s such an individual experience. You can’t try to guess or determine what people will be drawn to beforehand. To do that is to limit yourself and take less risks. It’s not our job to push an idea or a phrase onto the audience. I don’t know if this season has a catchphrase, but it’s always surprising what people relate to. We’ve really worked on that scaffolding within the scenes and within the story, so that we know where to go as we improvise.

What character do you most enjoy playing?

Nance, who was in the first season at the cult farm and in the motorcycle sketch in the second season with Peter. This season they open up a bed and breakfast. They are very syrupy unctuous couple. Everything is very comfortable and cozy with them, but there is always a small vibration of tension and underlying acrimony and every once in a while it oscillates so quickly. I like vacillating between those two extremes. They are a fun couple to play. You see so many couples like that, who are so benign on the surface. Then Fred came up with this very strange stutter. We love writing for them. We spend a lot of time as Peter and Nance.

Which costume do you enjoy wearing the most?

Toni from the feminist bookstore. I don’t understand clothes that feel like a small apartment. There’s so roomy and ridiculous and strange. As unattractive as they are, they are a much bolder sartorial choices than I make on my own.

Do you have a favorite sketch from this upcoming season?

The birthday episode. It’s one single sketch, one theme, one event. I don’t love playing Lance, but I love Fred as Nina. I loved exploring the adult birthday and how gratuitous and strange that is. Riding in on a horse was weird. There were balloons. Just a stream of ridiculousness that I liked.

Back in season one when Kumail Nanjiani came on the show for the first time as a clerk, did you immediately know you wanted to make him a permanent resident of Portlandia?

He was just so awesome we kept inviting him back. He’s brilliant and he’s an amazing improviser and we were completely fine with him playing these characters who have the same objective, which is to flummox and confound whoever he is up against. We want him back all the time. He crops up a few more times this season.

Do you consider yourself a comedian?

No, no I don’t. I consider myself a writer.

Want the latest news from Portlandia? Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter@ifcPortlandia and use the hashtag #portlandia.

Portlandia returns to IFC tonight at 10/9c

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Watch “Winter in Portlandia” in The Stream Room

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Do you frequently find yourself crying uncontrollably because you haven’t been able to watch Winter in Portlandia? Fix that right now by heading to the aptly titled The Stream Room where you can watch the special installment of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s sketch comedy show Portlandia. If you have already watched Winter in Portlandia, watch it again! It’s the best way to wile away the hours until the new season of Portlandia kicks off on Friday, Jan. 4th at 10/9c with a double dose of two new episodes.

In the first ever glimpse of the land of Portlandia in wintertime, we see Peter and Nance struggling to keep off winter weight by cutting pasta from their diets. Then we get to meet Candace’s son (Bobby Moynihan) as he visits Women and Women First bookstore for some holiday shopping (vagina pillows for all!) Plus Jim Gaffigan stars as food cart proprietor trying to keep his business, Stu’s Stews, profitable in cold weather. Bryce and Lisa offer a winter vacation at their newly opened Outlet Hotel, while Gahvin Quin spends the season inside building an elaborate recording studio in his basement.

Watch this clip from Winter in Portlandia and then go watch the whole thing over in The Stream Room. You’re welcome:

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Want the latest news from Portlandia? Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter@ifcPortlandia and use the hashtag #portlandia.

Portlandia returns to IFC on Friday, January 4th at 10/9c

Spoiler Alert: Watch a new clip from season three of Portlandia, airing tonight at 10/9c

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You know how it is. You’re talking to a friend and they casually mention a major spoiler on your favorite TV show. This brand new sneak peek clip from season three of Portlandia, which returns to IFC this Friday, Jan 4 at 10/9c with two new back-to-back episodes, explores that universal, annoying phenomenon.

In this new clip, which you can see again during the second episode of Friday’s double dose of Portlandia, we see last season’s Battlestar Galactica obsessives Doug (Fred Armisen) and Claire (Carrie Brownstein) throw a dinner party and discuss some of TV’s hottest shows, including Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Wire, and Homeland. Much to their friends’ chagrin, they can’t help but casually divulge some major spoiler alerts (you’ve been warned!)

In the third season of Portlandia, everyone’s favorite sketch comedy show features all your favorite Portlandia denizens, plus guest stars including Roseanne Barr (Roseanne), Matt Berry (The IT Crowd), Rose Byrne (Damages, Bridesmaids), band Dirty Projectors, Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), Juliette Lewis (Conviction, Natural Born Killers), J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), tennis champion Martina Navratilova, Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), George Wendt (Cheers) and a few more surprise guests!

Watch the clip from season three of Portlandia, but you’ve been warned MAJOR SPOILERS:

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Want the latest news from Portlandia? Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter@ifcPortlandia and use the hashtag #portlandia.

Portlandia returns to IFC on Friday, January 4th at 10/9c

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