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20 Best ‘Portlandia’ Sketches

From binge-watching panic to bird-improved accessories, here are the funniest, most far-out bits from IFC’s hit show

Goodbye, Portlandia: You’ve given us eight great seasons, and yet it still feels as if you’re gone too soon. The off-kilter IFC comedy series will air its series finale on March 22nd, which means we’ll have to bid adieu to the show’s aggro-bike messengers and bellowing Goths, precious indie-band fans and Battlestar Galactica binge-TV addicts,  singing men’s rights activists and the world’s most passive-aggressive feminist bookstore. (It’s so chilly in there!)

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s satiric look at life in Portland, Oregon frequently struck comedy gold over it’s seven-year run, thanks to the pair’s knack for embodying a wide range of characters, a murderer’s row of guest appearances (Jeff Goldblum to Eddie Vedder, Aimee Mann to Glenn Danzig) and the keen ability to skewer the hell out of the hipster trends and their self-righteous adherents. But out of all of Portlandia’s gluten-intolerant, hemp-heavy bits, there are naturally a few that rise immediately to the top. These are our picks for the 20 best Portlandia sketches. There have been birds put on all of them.

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11

‘I’m Not Bad, Right?’ (Season 8)

This Season 8 highlight hit right as a wave of sexual-harassment outings and righteous reckonings was capping off a year of taking toxic masculinity to task – and you won’t find a funnier skewering of the self-centered male paranoia that was left quivering in its wake. When Brownstein’s lawyer becomes the first female to become a full-fledged partner in her firm, she’s greeted with rounds of applause from her all-dude peers; when she begins her speech with “Sometimes it has been hard for me here, as a woman,” however, Armisen’s boss asks, “But … just … I’m not bad, right?” Soon, every guy in the room begins begging for reassurance that they’re not part of problem, because hey, #NotAllMen, right? “I’ve had 17 years of rampant sexism in this office, but I’m so sorry that you had two seconds of discomfort,” she tells a whiny executive over speaker phone who takes offense to her gripe. “Thank you … I feel supported,” he whimpers back. DF

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10

‘Spoiler Alert’ (Season 3)

Portlandia is as much about our consumption of media as it is an actual piece of media for us to consume. And this this Season Three entry – a perfect companion piece to the Battlestar Galactica binge-watching sketch – skewers the seemingly impossible task of staying spoiler-free, all while simultaneously spoiling a wide series of increasingly strange television and movie picks. It also has a surprise twist which, no, we won’t spoil here. KE

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9

‘911 Beets Emergency’ (Season 4)

“Sir, it’s always beets!” One of the most gloriously nonsensical sketches in Portlandia‘s history, this sublimely funny bit finds Brownstein and Armisen effectively using beets — the key ingredient in borscht, FYI — to poke fun at something that you’d think would be decidedly unfunny: 911 emergency calls. It layers in several of the show’s key elements, from the show creators’ charming chemistry to a bizarre spin on workplace drama – all with a bonus Jeff Goldblum appearance (perfectly coated in beets, naturally). KE

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8

‘The Everything Plan’ (Season 1)

Portlandia’s relationship with technology has usually been equal parts fear-inducing and funny bone-tickling. Employing a basic plot point – locating the city’s maybe-dead mayor by using cell phone technology – the sketch builds on the idea of ridiculously extravagant cell phone plans in a way that’s both hilarious and relatable to anyone who’s spent an afternoon stuck in a Verizon store. It’s another example of how invaluable Kumail Nanjiani’s contributions to the show have been; no one else excels at looking both bored and efficient in the face of a pair of wild-eyed, wacky-planned Portlanders. KE

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7

‘Did You Read It?’ (Season 1)

Did you see this sketch? Did you see it?!? Hellbent on one-upping each other when it comes to something as benign as casual magazine-reading, Brownstein and Armisen exhaust themselves while naming every possible permutation of publication and potentially incendiary article, a clever enough idea made positively dizzying by quick editing. It’s almost enough to keep that WTF ending from popping off the screen. Almost. KE

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6

‘Dream of the Nineties’ (Season 1)

Although both Armisen and Brownstein have enviable musical backgrounds, Portlandia isn’t a show that’s likely to trot out over-the-top, song-heavy sketches. “Dream of the Nineties” is the hysterical exception to the rule, a music video/exposition-heavy story that handily explains the charm of Portland – a place where people never stopped “getting piercings, getting tribal tattoos, forming bands” and “where young people go to retire.” It’s less a city than an early Lollapalooza show, trapped in amber in the Pacific Northwest. Exactly one skit in to this series, we already knew we were going to love it. KE

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5

‘Social Bankruptcy’ (Season 4)

Understandably overwhelmed by the influx of social media demands into her everyday life and the head-splitting ping of a constantly buzzing phone, Carrie goes for the “nuclear option”: declaring social bankruptcy and jettisoning the entire thing into the great recycling bin in the sky. It’s so freeing! It’s so wonderful! It’s so … lonely. A clean slate might sound like a good idea at first, but without a digital footprint and a set of emoticons to contextualize it, even the most liberated Facebook hater turns into a ghost. KE

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4

‘What About Men?’ (Season 7)

It first aired in 2016 as a stand-alone clip before the start of Portlandia‘s penultimate season, but this canon-worthy sketch would be a blistering takedown regardless of when or where it showed up. Two bros on bikes complain that all of the current movements – from transgender rights to Black Lives Matter – don’t have a place for the most trod upon demographic of them all, the white heterosexual male. When do they get a seat at the table of power, besides all the time, every day, literally for centuries? (Thank god for their one safe space: social media.) What follows is a musical number is that reveals M.R.A.’s as the ridiculous crybaby trolls they are. “The Statue of Liberty!” cries Brownstein’s stubbly dude. “What about our statue – the Statue of Libert-HE!” DF

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3

‘Battlestar Galactica’ (Season 2)

Brownstein and Armisen got hip to the binge-watching phenomenon early, just in time to churn out this Season Two gem, which takes one couple’s newfound love for the Syfy Channel’s popular series to its terrifying, oddly logical end. Rounded out by star-studded surprise appearances, including Edward James Olmos passed out on a couch (the guy is tuckered out, okay?), the sketch is both hilarious and uncomfortably familiar. Say it with us: One more episode! KE

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2

‘The Best Part Is Going Home’ (Season 4)

The show may revel in picking apart what the kids are into these days, but it consistently excels at reminding viewers what things are really like once their days of wine and roses are behind them. Depressing? Hardly. Especially if, like Fred and Carrie, you’ve got a pair of twin-sized beds to return to after a long, frustrating, drink-spilling night out at the local musical establishment of your choice. Also: No one is too old to get up early to snag Prince tickets. KE

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1

‘Put a Bird on It’ (Season 1)

If Portlandia’s legacy could be boiled down to one sketch, “Put a Bird On It” would be our high-flying, heavily feathered pick. This Season One gem displays all the hallmarks of the series’ best work: hipster mockery; some sort of long-simmering emotional issue hitting a boiling point; the duo totally committing to the gag; and a last minute switch-up that ties the whole thing together, much like a spiffy ornithological objet d’art might do to your very own living room. Put. A. Bird. On. It! KE

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