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Portlandia makes niceness hip

by: KRISTEN FORBES “Portlandia” stars (from left) Kyle MacLachlan, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein chat with journalists about their show.

I'm sitting next to Kyle MacLachlan and he's spooning salad greens onto my plate. In a few minutes he'll hold a pizza for me, patiently waiting as I wriggle a slice free.

When three big platters of meat are set on the table, he offers them to me; when I whisper I'm a vegetarian, he tracks down string beans and cherry tomatoes from one of the fish dishes.

The same generosity is repeated with dessert.

You'd think we were at his home and he was my host, but in fact we're at the Firehouse Restaurant in Northeast Portland. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein sit to his left. To my right and across the table, other journalists sit with full plates. MacLachlan served them, too.

I wish there was another way to describe the cast and crew of 'Portlandia.' The same words keep slipping out of my mouth every time anyone asks. It sounds so clichéd and I want to have a better, edgier answer, but the truth is this: They're all so nice. Genuinely, wonderfully nice.

After spending a day with them, I want to make them cupcakes and write a thank you card. I want to invite them to my next dinner party. (MacLachlan can be both guest and caterer.)

Their ability to take care of those around them, setting everyone at ease, is charming and infectious.

'Portlandia' has struck a chord and made its mark in Portland. Some say the show is sooooo Portland; others argue the characters portrayed represent only a slim sector. This distinction seems irrelevant, as the bottom line is this: It's a funny, oftentimes hilarious show, and it's centered in our neck of the world. It's a welcome addition to the culture here.

MacLachlan made a comment about his character that could be expanded to describe the show in general: It's a bright spot in a downcast city.

Not that we needed a television show to lift our rainy spirits, but the happiness oozing from this project is palpable. The vibe on set is positive, warm, and fun.

Here's a group of talented people who a.) genuinely enjoy doing what they do and b.) extend kindness and graciousness to everyone around them. Perhaps this shouldn't seem remarkable and extraordinary, and yet it is. 'Portlandia' makes niceness hip.

When lunch ends and we shift locations to a church several blocks away, members of the press get situated in a room downstairs while the crew shoots a scene upstairs.

In pops Armisen to check in on us. He wants to know if the room is OK. He points out an ice chest filled with water and cool drinks. Points out the craft services bus. Jokes about finding us some liquor. Asks about our writing. Chats amiably for a few minutes, then apologizes for having to leave us to go work on a scene.

'If you need anything at all,' he jokes before exiting, 'please interrupt whatever we're doing.'

Moments later, we're with him again. He and Brownstein are outside between shots and they seem more interested in learning about us than talking about themselves. They ask a bespectacled journalist about her eyeglasses. They want to know about the papers we write for.

Armisen's also interested in learning more about Oregon and Brownstein happily educates him about places like Salem and Eugene.

It's all so nice and normal. I continue to be struck by this. The niceness extends to every single cast and crew member I encounter, from director Jon Krisel to crew and staff members who offer me headphones, cookies, a chair to sit in and a friendly smile.

I leave the 'Portlandia' press day with a serious case of the warm-fuzzies. A funny, successful show filmed in Portland is great on its own. When the vibe of the show is pure positivism and warmth, it's truly something to appreciate in the rainy days ahead.

Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer whose work regularly appears in the Lake Oswego Review. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com .