LOS ANGELES – Ask Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein to give up hints about the new season of “Portlandia,” and a few words suffice to make any true admirer of the IFC satire giddy with anticipation.
“I would say raw milk plays heavily,” offers Armisen. “I would say the world of modeling, which we never really got into. Health care, a whole episode on that. And Fourth of July – what is that like in Portlandia?”
That’s medical care in general, not Obamacare in particular, Armisen explains, and the reference to a full episode is an important one for season five, which begins at 10 p.m. EST Thursday.
After four years of knitting half-hours out of varied sketches with recurring characters, the IFC comedy is going deeper into the lives of those characters and their semi-mythical city. The majority of the 10 half-hour episodes will focus on a single story, Brownstein said.
“When I watched the cut of the premiere episode, it really felt like a different show,” said the musician-writer-actress.
Former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and musician Armisen agrees, comparing the approach to creating “extended plays.” A prototype episode, titled “Getting Away,” aired last season.
The change makes sense given how many other impressive comedy sketch shows are on TV, said Brownstein, citing Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” among them.
“We’re interested in changing the form. … We see it possessing a lot of elasticity,” she said. “We’re using the same words, the same vernacular, but putting them into sentences instead of phrases.”
Joining in are an impressively varied group of guests that includes Paul Simon, Steve Buscemi, Justin Long, Paul Reubens, Olivia Wilde and Oscar the Grouch. Street artist Shepard Fairey plays an art supply store worker, a “little joke for any art student out there,” Armisen said.
Luring celebrities to drop in is generally easy, he said. And there’s something in it for him and Brownstein.
“We make sure that when we have a role to offer somebody that it’s going to be fun for them, or different for them. For us, there’s people we want just because we got to meet them and do something together,” Armisen said.
The show does that as well for Armisen and his longtime pal and Portland resident Brownstein, whose friendship has been enriched by their time spent working on “Portlandia.”
Both have other career demands. Armisen leads the 8G Band on Seth Meyers’ late-night NBC show in New York, and Brownstein and her Sleater-Kinney bandmates are back together after nearly a decade, with a new album out this month and a tour beginning in February.
As much as he and Brownstein enjoy hanging out, Armisen said, the goal always is to make the best show possible.
That means continuing to explore – comically, but non-judgmentally – the charms of their version of Portland, where residents enjoy the privilege of fretting over the method used to brew their coffee and not about how they'll feed their family.
“That’s the Portlandia mindset,” explains Brownstein, “high-minded and progressive and well-meaning but always with a nagging critique of, ‘Huh, is this so precious we’re ignoring the bigger struggles?’ ”
Or having the occasional contrarian reaction to, say, the expectation you'll diligently place each category of trash into its own recycling receptacle.
“I just end up throwing everything out, I get so flummoxed,” Brownstein said. “I can’t separate a straw.”