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Carrie Brownstein talks ‘Portlandia,’ more

Carrie Brownstein takes on multiple roles in IFC's

Carrie Brownstein takes on multiple roles in IFC's "Portlandia." Credit: IFC / Augusta Quirk

“Portlandia,” one of the great TV comedies of the decade, wraps Thursday, March 22 (10 p.m., IFC), with an episode titled “Rose Route,” featuring cameos by Dolly Wells (of HBO’s “Doll & Em”), Tessa Thompson and Cherry Jones.

And, oh, right: also “Portlandia’s” redoubtable mayor, played for the last time by Kyle MacLachlan.

What made this jewel so special? What made it endure? And why leave now? I put these questions recently to Carrie Brownstein, one of the sketch comedy’s creators, along with Jonathan Krisel and Valley Stream native Fred Armisen. Brownstein appeared in all the sketches over the eight-season run, most famously as Toni, co-proprietor with Candace (Armisen) of Women & Women First, Portland’s own feminist bookstore.

As fans also know, Brownstein, 43, is a founder of the Seattle-based riot grrrl punk-indie band Sleater-Kinney. She's also currently developing -- and writing the pilot for-- a potential series on Hulu.

An edited version of our chat:

 

Why are you ending the show now?

We just wanted to be in charge of the narrative of the conclusion. We appreciate things that are not overindulgent and I think we felt like eight years was plenty. Fred, Jonathan and I are big fans of the British model, which actually is even more sparing in its output — two or three seasons. We had surpassed that by many years.

 

Were you getting overindulgent?

No, I think we were able to keep the form elastic and experiment with a narrative structure when we did arcs that worked through the season. I think by not doubling down on certain things [like politics] or getting referential we were able to get it a sense of scope.

 

The ratings are low, but the fan base is huge — notably online. How did that come about?

Netflix is where a lot of people watch it. I don’t even watch the show in real time.

 

“Portlandia” did have a remarkable list of guest actors. How did you get them to Portland?

The drummer for Unwound [Sara Lund] was in Portland at the time . . . [but] we just had an amazing casting person. . . . People were brought in from L.A. and New York, people that we greatly admired like Terry Crews, Jeff Goldblum and Steve Buscemi . . . [but] we’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite. We always just landed on people who were eager and willing and looking forward to stepping into this world.

 

“Portlandia” was part of the zeitgeist — a recent sketch about a female lawyer belittled by male counterparts — yet removed from it. How did you achieve that balancing act?

We wrote that sketch before #MeToo, and you could have written that 20 years ago. Just because of #MeToo doesn’t mean you have to do it to make it work now. I think we are a show that wants to be in conversation with the culture . . . I think as the [political] environment started changing, we were able to make that adjustment, too. This wasn’t a show that aired nightly or weekly, so we had to be careful because if we were trying to be too on the nose about something it could feel off by the time it airs. What we were trying to get at is, who these . . . [characters] are — but with a sense of compassion and sympathy because we saw them as facets of ourselves. So instead of putting someone up as a target and skewering them, we wanted to know what underlying components make someone operate this way [and] then it’s about character.

There was a lot of love for Portland and a little disdain, too. Which strain prevailed?

There was no disdain for Portland! We never went after anything, period. We saw Portland as the backdrop, but also as a mindset that allows us to explore the ways that insularity is kind of a privilege in and of itself, and that by cutting yourself off from certain things, that can create a sense of identity.

 

What were the reactions in Portland?

It was complex. Some people were fans of it, some people were confused by it, some were upset that we were exploring some of these topics.

 

Is there a future for breakouts of Toni and Candace?

We paired them up with the “Oh, Hello” characters [Nick Kroll, John Mulaney] recently and there was something very silly and surreal about that crossover. We talked about some sort of tour or some live element that included the four of us, but I think for now, we are willing to put a period at the end of the sentence that is “Portlandia.”

 

I have to ask about Sleater-Kinney. Did I read somewhere that a new album will arrive next year?

It was slightly mischaracterized. We are definitely working on a new record, and it will potentially . . . [arrive] in the next couple of years and [laughing] I could almost guarantee before 2025.

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