The final season of ‘Portlandia’ echoes real-world societal anxiety

The final season of IFC’s “Portlandia,” which kicks off Jan. 18, is less focused on geography and more on relationships that have been built.

PORTLAND, Ore. — In a sketch later in the final season of IFC’s “Portlandia” (10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18), characters played by series stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein find themselves at the mercy of a clerk played by recurring guest star Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley,” “The Big Sick”).

They’re at Disaster Hut, trying to buy supplies for a potential future calamity, when talk turns to what desert-island disc they would choose for an emergency.

“We worked backwards from ‘desert island disc,’ ” Armisen said during a visit to the show’s set during the last days of filming in September. “It’s such a common question, what’s your favorite record? And the idea of what scenario would have to exist for that to happen. And once we knew Kumail was going to be in the scene, we engineered it so it would be us asking him for something. He’s the person in power.”

Why that set up?

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“It’s the way he improvises, the way he speaks,” Armisen said. “He speaks with authority but with humility at the same time.”

“Portlandia” used a tax preparer’s office to play the role of Disaster Hut, filling it with signage (“Be ready. Be safe.”) to sell the theme, which turns out to have a prevalent role in the show’s final season, reflecting real-world, societal anxiety in the era of President Donald Trump, a nuclear North Korea, environmental chaos (see: last summer’s wildfires) and terrorism.

“I remember looking at the board [in the writers room] and we had all these index cards up, separated by episode and sketch, and there was a permeating anxiety in so many of the sketches, like, ‘Cancel it,’ ‘Let’s give up,’ ” Brownstein said. “Inadvertently, without having looked for a coherent theme, there is definitely an underpinning of doom for sure. It is the end of the ‘Dream’ this season.”

That would be the “Dream of the ’90s,” the musical sketch that kicked off “Portlandia” back in 2011, positing Portland as a city where young people go to retire. And while a Pacific Northwest aesthetic coursed through the show, Armisen said “Portlandia” became less geographic-specific: “As the show has gone on it, I feel like it’s less about the…

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