A review of tonight’s “Party Down” coming up just as soon as I get a hot dog’s worth of your time…
“When people want less, they turn to us. What’s bad for America is good for Party Down.” -Bolus Lugozshe
The push-pull between dreams (everyone’s hope of breaking into showbiz) and reality (everyone’s horrifying gig with Party Down) is the key theme of “Party Down,” and it appropriately takes over an episode where, once again, the team is attending a party rather than working it. Roman and Kyle can’t resist challenging the Valhalla goons to a catering obstacle course. Henry wryly mocks them for doing a version of their awful jobs on their day off, but he also spends much of the episode contemplating the idea of really turning Party Down into a career by joining Uda in a new job at company HQ. Casey – who still has her dreams, and wants Henry to share them – is horrified by the idea that Henry would actually want stability and a 401K, as well as a relationship with a cold automaton like Uda and tries to distract herself by going toe to toe with Garland Greenbush for the company picnic all-around championship. And Ron tries to bounce back from the Soup ‘R Crackers catastrophe by going after the same job that Lugozshe(*) has offered to Uda.
(*) Because Ken Jeong was busy with “Community” and all the other work that came his way post-“Hangover,” he wasn’t available to come back this season, so Mr. Duk goes to jail for welfare fraud, and the great Michael Hitchcock begins a recurring role as the new boss.
Ultimately, dreams and reality come to a bit of a stalemate. Valhalla predictably walks all over Party Down in every competition (they even throw the obstacle course to humiliate Kyle and Roman) and Ron doesn’t get the job, but Henry also breaks up with Uda and steps back from the idea of Party Down as a career, even quietly offering Ron the team leader gig back (but holding onto the raise and benefits for himself). And if Ron can’t get Lugozshe to take him seriously, he at least clicks with his daughter Danielle – though in typical Ron fashion, it goes awry because she’s engaged.
The episode was highlighted, unsurprisingly, by the return of Kristen Bell as Uda. John Enbom knows how funny she can be when playing a nasty character, and Uda has plenty of lines that are decent on the page – “Worse than Fred Durst’s birthday?” or “What is it about more weiners that you do not understand?” – and then hilarious when they come out of her mouth. Yet what makes the episode really click is that Uda’s not a two-dimensional villain. She’s cold and overly competitive (the picture accompanying this post nicely captures her darker qualities), but she does like Henry, and she can tell that he’s not really interested, and she’s so lonely that she keeps trying to make it work anyway. “Party Down” mainly succeeds because it’s a go-for-broke comedy that doesn’t worry about the boundaries of good taste, but it also doesn’t sell out its regular characters for the sake of jokes (Ron gets hit in the groin by Uda’s kickball, but you also feel sympathetic for him as he tries to make his dreams come true and get the girl), and it’s nice to see Enbom and Rob Thomas extend that sense of protectiveness to their old “Veronica Mars” star.
Casey’s feud with Greenbush was also a funny, rare example of a Casey subplot that had virtually nothing to do with Henry, and suggests Casey could still work as a character in a hypothetical Henry-light third season(**). And for the second week in a row, we get Lydia feeling very much a part of the group, with her battling with Kyle for the soul (and income percentage) of daughter Escapade. There have been some complaints that Constance’s absence has made Kyle seem dumber and more vapid than he was in season one, but I thought this episode achieved a nice balance with the character. Yes he’s shallow and a bad actor, but he does understand parts of how the business works, and he wants to pass on that knowledge to an aspiring actress, and without wanting to get into her pants. (Though I found it particularly funny that he was so barely aware of her age that he asked what clubs she hangs out at.)
(**) In the latest development, CBS is reportedly on the verge of picking up Lizzy Caplan’s sitcom pilot, but she won’t be staying in it, which would leave her free to continue with the show. Based on the microscopic ratings, the new regime at Starz, and the loss of Jane Lynch, Adam Scott and Ryan Hansen, I’m not particularly optimistic, but you’ve gotta take the good news where you can get it.
All in all, another terrific episode as we prepare for the home stretch of season two. What did everybody else think?