No sooner do I write about how Portland is still enough of an idiosyncratic backwater to produce a show like Portlandia, while Seattle stopped laughing at itself after Almost Live died, than events conspire to prove otherwise.
Last Wednesday, a team of local improv, film, and theater veterans (self-described "immature professionals") brought forth their answer to Portlandia, Almost Live, and the perennial question: Is that guy in the coffeeshop wearing bicycle shorts, smoking jacket, hunter's cap, and engineer boots a hipster or a street crazy?
The result is called Local Brew, and the titular brew — which host Ross Asdourian employs the way Dean Martin used a highball glass — is not a double-skinny from Starbucks, but Rainier in the can. Asdourian, a Theatre Sports improviser, emcees the proceedings with disarming pseudo-amateurism, cocking an eye or breathing a long-suffering sigh at each artful glitch.
"Episodes will come out every other Wednesday, but this is the first one. So let's get going," Asdourian proclaims cheerily — and Portlandia's credits roll. Sigh and shrug. Any invidious comparisons — "Are you guys trying to be like Portlandia?" — are thus preempted, and Seattle sheds its "first-class city" apirations to revel in amateur status.
The first ten-minute installment is a densely packed compilation, highly produced in a low-budget, artfully disheveled sort of way, with topical twists and a varied tone. The action moves from a mock-apocalyptic "Snowmadgeddon" movie trailer to a mock-lyrical parody of the Cavalia pageant and horse porn generally (both figurative and literal) — done with dry ice, Barbie dolls, and those pastel plastic horsies with the long flowing manes that have done so much to corrupt American girlhood.
The one real glitch: This first installment plays at a high-res default of 720 pixels, which can make for slow buffering even on a moderately powerful computer. If you find it pausing to refresh too often, check it out at 480 pixels on YouTube, either here or by clicking on the title within the video image. Asdourian promises to slim episode 2 down to a more manageable resolution.
This first shot of Local Brew is probably funnier than Almost Live actually was, certainly much funnier than old episodes would seem today. It's gentler and less queasy-making than Portlandia, with a lighter and, in a way, more purely local touch; Portlandia's savage satire of PC priggishness and obliviousness is as much about class as place. If Local Brew can sustain this pace, it might be ready for prime time. Or at least cable.