Being a show made up of numerous bits that say something different about life in Portland, Portlandia must be analyzed for its individual stories rather than as an episode in its entirety. This remains true for cinematography, as different stories throughout the episode require a different means of expression since they are trying to convey different things. As such, I will analyze the cinematography in Season 2, Episode 2, but I’m going to focus specifically on two bits within the episode: one at Portland’s fictional “Allergy Pride” parade, and one where Brownstein and Armisen’s characters become addicted to Battlestar Galactica.
The opening scene of the episode occurs at an “Allergy Pride” parade in Portland, where Brownstein and Armisen are announcers for the event. As is shown in the image above, the scene is shot to look like a patriotic setting with red, white and blue in the background. The camera also slightly points up at the two announcers, indicating their authority in the scene. There are relatively short takes, going between the commentary by the announcers and visuals of what is going on. The quick shots point to the chaos and absurdity of the event, as many people walk by with posters like “tolerate the lactose intolerant.” This scene is very well lit, as the goal is to make it look like an official event rather than something in an informal setting.
Conversely, a scene later in this episode shows Brownstein and Armisen’s characters procrastinating many duties as they waste away a week of their lives by watching every episode of Battlestar Galactica. The cinematography of this scene is noticeably different, namely because it is trying to convey a different theme to the viewer at home. Whereas the first scene needed to be seen as more formal, with more complex and well-lit shots, this scene’s humor is derived from the messiness of the characters’ situations. The lighting is darker, showing a lack of hope for their situation, and everything around the room is a mess. There is a rapid pace cutting between scenes, with occasional time stamps showing just how long they had been watching the show for comedic effect. The colors in this scene gradually get darker and less diverse as the scene goes on and they spend more time watching the show. Using different strategies, Brownstein and Armisen are able to convey different moods to the viewer in these two scenes.
However, I wouldn’t say that this episode’s strategy when it comes to cinematography is drastically different than any other episode simply because each episode has such a diverse array of strategies. This is truly a very visually interesting show to watch, and I enjoyed how the cinematography (and diversity of it within a given episode) reflected the diverse nature of the show.