‘Party Down’ – ‘Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday’: Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star? We do!

Senior Television Writer
05.21.10 35 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Party Down” coming up just as soon as I buy a fleet of blimps…

“Making art is an act of courage. Do you know who said that?” -Steve Guttenberg
“Steve Guttenberg!” -Casey

Steve Guttenberg is a joke to many (at least, to those who still remember that window in the mid-’80s where he was somehow neck and neck with Eddie Murphy for world’s biggest comedy star), but to Fienberg and I, the man is a god. A few years back, Dan idly approached The Gutte at a press tour party and came away with a hilarious, completely random collection of non-sequitur answers and bits of wisdom, which you should immediately go and read here. Inspired by The Gospel of The Gutte, we made it a point to seek the man out at future events, and he did not disappoint with what was either complete lunacy or ego-less improv in the guise of lunacy.

Rob Thomas, who worked with The Gutte on “Veronica Mars” season two, liked to tell me that it was definitely the latter – that Guttenberg had made his money and didn’t care, and was now just going to amuse himself – and by casting the man to play himself in tonight’s episode, he’s put the crazy-like-a-fox Gutte on wonderful display.

“Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” was at once a complete parody of The Gutte and a celebration of him as a man so awesome, Ayn Rand would have written about him.(*) He is rich, and cultured (though his DVD collection does include “Herbie Fully Loaded” on Blu-Ray), such a swell guy that he lets the Party Down team hang out at his house all day after the birthday mix-up, such a champion of the performing arts that he insists the gang get together to act out and workshop Roman’s sci-fi script, and such a total stud that he steals the fetching Collette away from both McLovin(**) and Kyle.

(*) And Casey’s explanation of Ayn Rand is by far my favorite sentence ever written on that subject.

(**) Question: how many years and/or memorable roles have to pass before we stop automatically thinking of Christopher Mintz-Plasse as McLovin? He was a very fine addition to the larger “Party Down” world as Roman’s writing partner Kent Gerbels, but just as I was starting to embace him as this character and only this character, Roman salted Kent’s game with Collette, and all I could think was, “You just cock-blocked McLovin!”

The two performances of Roman’s script were briliant on every level, first in showing that behind Roman’s superior attitude lies a hack whose idea of “hard sci-fi” is endless technobabble without plot or characterization, and then in showing a Henry briefly inspired to show off the acting gifts that “Are we having fun yet?” eclipsed. Adam Scott totally went for it in the second performance, and the fact that he was so good in performing that drek only made the scene funnier, even as it was yet another bittersweet reminder of the cruel business this show’s characters lurk on the fringes of.

And Henry’s bravura during the scene, coupled with a glimpse of him as the troubled teen of “Sundown Strip,” aroused Casey’s old feelings for Henry, leading to an awkward moment in the hot tub that promises to lead to many more interesting things for these two.

So much brilliance in this one, including some of the weirder and filthier parts of The Gutte’s art collection (I will never look at porcupines the same way again) and Ron uttering the phrase “If he finds out I got a shrimp caught in his Koontz,” as well as Ron cleaning himself up and yet remaining such a blithering idiot that he gets banned from AA.

I watched the season’s first five episodes all in a burst a couple of months ago, and after not being crazy about either Lydia (who’s better used here as she tries to soak up The Gutte’s knowledge and pals around with her neighbor) or the Henry/Ron role reversal, this was the episode that convinced me season two was finally approaching the greatness of season one. I’ve since watched the next five, and they are wonderful. Whether or not the show comes back (and with Ryan Hansen’s NBC pilot being picked up, that’s yet another danger sign), there are a lot of laughs to look forward to before the season’s done.

What did everybody else think?

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