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Originally published Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 6:15 AM

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Quirky sketches, goofy humor and sharp social commentary — ‘Portlandia’ is back

‘Portlandia’ brings its wacky, sometimes disdainful humor back for a fourth season with stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, debuting Thursday, Feb. 27, on IFC.

Special to The Seattle Times



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PORTLAND — Carrie Brownstein is clad in pink to play Stace, a new character featured in a “Portlandia” sketch filming on a warm, mid-September evening in a house in Northeast Portland.

Stace is joined by two blond women and they’re all drinking wine.

“You are rocking that Peter Pan collar,” Stace says to one of the blondes. “Peter Pan was a total rock star.”

Later Stace examines one of the blonde’s rings: “Can I say this? You’re rockin’ that rock.”

“I don’t know why we lob endings off names: Nance, Kath,” Brownstein said of the choice of Stace for her latest character’s moniker. “We have disdain with the monosyllabic names.”

The sketch will air in the April 3 episode of the show’s fourth season, which debuts at 10 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, on IFC. It’s a one-off that doesn’t feature the show’s popular recurring characters.

“Basically, this is our sociolinguistic sketch,” Brownstein said while waiting to film the scene. “It’s just talking about the overuse of rock-star analogues for not-rock-star settings. We all had examples of situations where people were using hyperbole ad infinitum and so we just began talking about those examples and the almost gross misuse of ‘rock star’ applied to more serious people like Gandhi: ‘Gandhi is a rock star.’ It’s that way people can overuse words and terms to the point of rendering them meaningless.”

It’s a smart observation, though perhaps not an obvious one, which is what makes “Portlandia” sketches distinct.

That same September evening at the same location, star Fred Armisen was in full wardrobe for a scene from a Nina and Lance sketch that airs in the fourth episode. Armisen said he was glad not to have to rush back to New York during “Portlandia’s” August-to-November production to appear on “Saturday Night Live” (he left the show last May after 11 seasons). But he’ll return to double duty during “Portlandia’s” already-ordered fifth season because he’s been named the new band leader on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” debuting Monday, Feb. 24.

This year “Portlandia” will forgo last season’s serialized story lines, which proved to be taxing on the show’s production crew.

“It was ambitious and it paid off, but it was definitely hard to pick up little pieces [of scenes] all over the place and have four or five location moves in a single day,” Brownstein said. “Whereas, going to the feminist bookstore and shooting our three sketches in a single day allowed for flexibility in performance and allowed more time for improvisation.

“We’re really glad we did that season,” she continued, “but we want things to feel different as we go along and for people to be surprised by the form and content of our show. I think this season returns a little more to the classic form of the show in seasons one and two.”

Stace aside, more sketches will be focused on the show’s established characters, including the return of the mayor of Portland (Kyle MacLachlan, “Twin Peaks”).

“It just helps the writing to know who the people are we’re writing for,” Brownstein said.

In the season premiere, ambitious Claire and slacker Doug open a joint checking account. In episode two, Bryce and Lisa — famous from season one’s “Put a Bird On It” — start a business renting out household items. Feminist-bookstore owners Toni and Candace hold a carwash to raise money to pay their bookstore’s rent.

“The feminist-bookstore ladies are one of our favorites to do because they don’t physically move,” Armisen said. “When you can plant yourself and speak, you get a lot of material that way.”

Freelance writer Rob Owen: or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.

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