Those characters inside Fred Armisen's head call out to him at the most unexpected times.
Riding on the New York subway can inspire him or simply seeing a newspaper photo of a man with a bright red perm.
"You see (a photo) and then you start filling in the blanks in your head," says the 45-year-old actor-comedian, best known for his years on "Saturday Night Live" and now his own sketch series "Portlandia" (returning for a second season 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6, IFC).
For one "Portlandia" sketch, all it took was passing by a small independent bookstore called In Other Words to get him to thinking what the employees there might be like.
That's when he came up with Candace, an oddly androgynous storeowner who wears little make-up, has long gray locks and wears a lot of hemp.
The laid-back groove for Portland, Ore., has allowed for Armisen's mind to work overtime in "Portlandia," which he co-created with best friend Carrie Brownstein. Each week, Armisen and Brownstein pull out an array of colorful characters, usually quiet and somber types with outrageous outward appearances.
"Portlandia" gives Armisen an outlet that "SNL" does not -- a chance to do slightly longer sketches and the sort of subtle humor that's more his specialty. "SNL" provides him greater exposure and is more lucrative, but "Portlandia" lets his mind run free.
"Candace and I used to make these videos just for fun, and we just kept going and going," Armisen says. "It's like being in a band. At first, you jam together and, then, before you know it, you're making a record. It just kept going."
When the two decided to turn their hobby into a series, they heard IFC was looking for an off-kilter comedy and pitched the idea. The first season was a clear hit for the channel's modest audience. A second season was a no brainer.
Don't think "Portlandia" will pull Armisen away from his day job. "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels helped get the show on the air and is a guiding force behind it.
Armisen and Brownstein write the scripts, develop the characters and call the shots on a shoestring budget.
He admits the workload can be a bit much, but he thrives under pressure. Still, the mellow Armisen takes it in stride.
"I like being stressed. It puts pressure on me to be my best," he says.
Other highlights for the week of Jan. 1-7. All times are Eastern. Listings are subject to change. Check local listings:
-- "Baseball Wives" (9 p.m. VH1). The reality series about the lives of professional baseball players' wives reaches a second inning.
-- "Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off" (9 p.m. Food Network). Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri compete for bragging rights to which one of them is superior in the kitchen.
-- "Angry Boys" (10 p.m. HBO). The creator of "Summer Heights High" is back with a new comedy about stressed-out 21st century men (two of which he plays).
-- "The Lying Game" (9 p.m. ABC Family). The twins are back to dive into more family secrets in season two. First up: a car found in the bottom of a lake dredges up more lies and accusations.
-- "It's A Brad, Brad World" (10 p.m. Bravo). This spin-off of "The Rachel Zoe Project" has stylist Brad Goreski on his own in the cruel world of fashion.
-- "Work It" (8:30 p.m. ABC). Two unemployed men pass themselves off as women to land two plum jobs. If this show isn't cancelled during its first episode, it will be a miracle.
-- "Indecision 2012" (11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Comedy Central). It's an election year so Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" and Stephen Colbert's "The Colbert Report" take aim at the candidates and the dumb things they say.
-- "Bobby Deen's Not My Mama's Meals" (9 p.m. Cooking Channel). Paula Deen's son whips up some of his mother's dishes but with healthy substitutions.
-- "Hot In Cleveland" (10 p.m. TV Land). The ladies recollect how they first met, and Elka (Betty White) has her own '80s flashback.
-- "Wipeout" (8 p.m. ABC). A winter edition of the summertime game show gets contestants sliding through more obstacle courses.
-- "American Stuffers" (10 p.m. Animal Planet). The work and life of a taxidermist is chronicled in this new reality series.
-- "Jersey Shore" (10 p.m. MTV). The gang heads back to New Jersey for its fifth season.
-- "The Wizards of Waverly Place" (8 p.m. Disney Channel). In the series finale, the family learns which of the three children will remain a wizard.
-- "Dog Whisperer" (8 p.m. Animal Planet). Cesar Millan is back with 10 new episodes, each with a "theme" of problems that nag at your pooch.
-- "Fixing Pete" (9 p.m. Hallmark Channel). A fashion editor takes on the challenge of making over an immature sports writer in this romantic comedy. Brooke Burns, Dylan Bruno and Stacy Keilber star.