After a grueling TV-less holiday assuredly filled with human interaction, home cooking, and other domestic terrors, the entertainment business has welcomed us back into its>"/>
After a grueling TV-less holiday assuredly filled with human interaction, home cooking, and other domestic terrors, the entertainment business has welcomed us back into its warm, corporate-sponsored bosom for another fertile crop of watchable television. While there's no shortage of promising series premieres rolling out over the month of January, TV Dinner has decided to kick off 2012 with celebrating the second season of hipster catnip Portlandia, the sketch comedy show driven by Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen and former Sleater-Kinney/current Wild Flag guitarist Carrie Brownstein. To pair with the cutting-edge comedy, we'll be taking a look at budding take-out titans Marination Mobile, who have only recently settled into their Capitol Hill brick-and-mortar, Marination Station.
The Cuisine: Food trucks have had something of a small renaissance within Seattle in the past couple of years, so much so that substantial changes to city legislation had to be made in order to accommodate it.
While this is assuredly great news for prospective vendor and prospective hungry-person-on-the-street alike, there's something about the simple, gritty charm of street food that was lost in all of the recent push towards accessibility. Vendors like Skillet and Maximus/Minimus offer strokes of culinary genius on the run, including duck confit and grilled chicken sandwiches with Beecher's Flagship cheese and chipotle mayo, respectively. They're certainly delicious, but also certainly a far cry from the charred hot dogs and greasy guys in tank-tops that make up the diligent old stereotypes of so much food cart-related nostalgia.
Marination Station (thankfully) parlays the sweaty guy with a spatula, but definitely seems to have more of a scrappy spirit than a lot of its mobile contemporaries. Their most popular offering are their tacos, 4" corn tortillas packing your choice of chicken, beef, pork or tofu. Their chicken's seasoning was a lively yet unintrusive combination of ginger and miso that's served with lime wedges for a very good reason. Their spicy bulgolgi-style pork tacos will have you piling on the coleslaw to get that red pepper-seared flavor past your meeker taste buds.
While street food is rather notorious for offering little in the way of taking your meal much further than ten feet of where you were served, Marination Station gave me my tacos in a neat bed of lettuce tucked snugly into a plaid paper food tray and served up in a (*gasp!*) plastic bag. It doesn't get much more unassuming than that.
The Entertainment: While Portlandia might not share much in Marination Station's Korean and Hawaiian influences specifically, the cutting-edge sketch comedy is rich with content that's both refreshingly bold and accessible to more than just the elitist palate.
Almost immediately drawing comparisons to fellow region-specific alternative sketch comedy show The Kids in the Hall, Portlandia takes exquisite glee in taking the piss out of their hip, young target audience. Fixed-gear bike snobs, overpriced music festivals and pompous foodie assholes are all put on hilarious display, but there's also plenty of well-paced running gags and good old fashioned surrealist humor that keep the show from sinking into an insta-dated mire of cutesy cultural references. Also, between Brownstein's rockstar pedigree and Armisen's prolific SNL run, the two have probably come close to meeting every single active celebrity worth knowing -- which has afforded the show an astonishing range of guest stars from Sarah Maclachlan to Edward James Olmos in less than ten episodes.
Despite an impressive variety and some wildly successful sketches that tore through the internet faster than a video of a flying kitten with a baby tied to its back, the show did sometimes struggle to keep its momentum in a thirty-minute presentation. While I think it's pretty much nothing but sheer cliche indulgence to describe a sketch comedy show as hit-or-miss at this point, the first season seemed to have an especially distracting amount of sog around the edges.
Probably the most pronounced stumbling block of Portlandia's first season seemed to lie in a fairly palpable lack of television experience in co-star Carrie Brownstein. I'd say it could have just been that Fred Armisen's near decade of experience on Saturday Night Live alone would make most TV rookies come off awkward, but from the two episodes of the new season I've seen, Brownstein seems to have tangibly stepped it up. In the first season, the musician lacked the expressiveness and electricity that had been translated so many memorable performances onstage. It seemed like she was pushed into a supporting role for most of the show's sketches which, personally at least, created this odd effect where her fame in other areas would overshadow her somewhat meek presence onscreen, making it seem like she was a special guest star on her own show.
However, it certainly feels like Brownstein is getting her bearings with the new medium in this year's batch of episodes, positively commandeering an increasingly high-concept sketch about dating a man with a Eddie Vedder tattoo (it would be one hell of a pleasant surprise if this didn't turn out to be the absolute strongest moment of the season). Brownstein just comes off as much more confident and energetic this time around, and it gives the show the forward thrust it seemed to be missing last season.
The Pairing: Although Portlandia's seasons are frustratingly short and Marination Station closes up shop by 8PM every day, there's not only a lot to like about both properties, but plenty of room for them to grow. Marination Station has something for most every taste, from sadistically spicy to subtle and sweet, and only seems to be expanding its menu. Portlandia is not just snarky and hip, but also has a strong foundation in its two core performers' varied collection of experience. It's a safe bet that both are about to have another great year.