Updated Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 06:02 AM
PORTLAND – In the upcoming third season of IFC’s “Portlandia,” tough-guy Lance (Carrie Brownstein) and sweet Nina (Fred Armisen) hit a rough patch when Nina wants an extravagant birthday party. She even drags Lance to a Mr. Formal shop in suburban Beaverton to get fitted for a tux.
Filming a key scene, Armisen, in a red wig and leopard print jacket as Nina, tiptoes in, while Brownstein, wearing a fake mustache as Lance, complains to the suit salesman and store general manager about having to dress up.
“I need something manly,” Lance says. “I’m kind of a guy’s guy.”
That line of dialogue in this largely improvised show won’t make the final cut. But this one will: “Tails? I’m not a magician!”
Take after take, the scene changes ever-so-slightly as the performers try out different lines and different tones.
In one take, Armisen goes to hang up a shirt and the hanger misses the rack; he turns it into a gag by missing the rack over and over again until the store manager — who is actually the manager of this Mr. Formal location and not an actor — steps in to help hang up the shirt. That take also makes it into the episode, “Nina’s Birthday,” which is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Jan. 11.
Before the show’s official, Jan. 4 third season premiere, IFC will premiere a bonus episode, “Winter in Portlandia,” airing at 10:30 p.m. Dec. 14.
It’s the first time viewers will visit Portlandia in winter, one of several attempts in the third season by Armisen, Brownstein and executive producer/director Jonathan Krisel to push at the show’s creative boundaries.
“Winter in Portlandia” begins with a collection of characters seeking out a rare sunny patch of ground on a gray, cloudy day — and then moving with the sun, even if that means setting up lawn chairs and barbecue in the middle of a busy street.
“I’m on three anti-depressants,” Brownstein’s character says. “In the summer I go down to one.”
Another sketch centers on the food cart Stu’s Stews with British comic actor Matt Lucas (“Little Britain”) guest starring as Stu. “Winter in Portlandia” features several of the show’s regular characters — Peter and Nance, Feminist bookstore proprietors Toni and Candace, and artisan curators Bryce and Lisa.
Some of the show’s regular characters will find themselves in ongoing story arcs that stretch multiple episodes in the third season.
“The characters’ lives are being explored in a lot more depth,” Brownstein said during a break in filming outside Mr. Formal in mid-September. “We were just wanting to do something different and push ourselves and not wanting to be tied down to a specific format or peoples’ expectations.”
The Fred and Carrie characters will have a major, season-spanning storyline when they get a new roommate, played by Chloë Sevigny (“Big Love,” “American Horror Story”).
“We like to cast people whose work we admire, whose sensibility we admire,” Brownstein said of the show’s big-name guest stars. But when auditioning local actors for parts, they don’t usually cast people who try to be funny. “Often an attempt at earnestness and seriousness is much more humorous than the attempt to be ridiculous.”
Last season “Portlandia” did its first single-storyline episode, “Brunch Village.” This season two episodes will feature a single plot; “Nina’s Birthday” will be the first of these to air as it follows not only Nina and Lance preparing for the birthday party but also some of the invited guests.
Armisen said the show’s creators liked the way “Brunch Village” turned out and wanted to try more episodes using a similar format.
“We tied all of these things together,” he said, “and we love it because it’s sketch still but tying it together gives it a theme.”
Freelance writer Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.
‘Portlandia: Winter in Portlandia’
10:30 p.m. Friday on IFC. Many Seattle-area providers air the IFC East Coast feed, which means the show will be on at 7:30 p.m.; check with your cable or satellite company.
Frank DiMarco / IFC
Carrie Brownstein, left, and Fred Armisen return as feminist bookstore owners Toni and Candace in “Winter in Portlandia.”