As Todd pointed out in his What’s On Tonight write-up, this episode was a (perhaps unintentional) homage to “The Chinese Restaurant,” one of the best ever episodes of Seinfeld, where the gang goes to get food and never gets served because of a lot of elaborate mishaps. Stacked up against that episode, “Party Of Six” doesn’t hold up. But as a fun half-hour of Happy Endings, it wasn’t bad at all!
The joke between the two episodes is fundamentally different, anyway (I’m already regretting using the comparison as my lede). In Seinfeld, it’s that they can’t even get a table, and that waiting for tables takes so long and is so annoying. Here, it’s the (also classic) problem of everyone being unable to settle on a place for Penny’s birthday, spun into a whole episode.
It’s a thin concept, so quickly the reasons why the gang can’t go to places become more and more extreme—Brad and Jane had sex in several, Penny lost the rights to one in a break-up, and (my personal favorite) Alex has already eaten Thai, Indian and barbecue for lunch. Today. My one big issue with “Party Of Six” was that it had a lot of scenes where the gang said why they couldn’t go to restaurants while sitting around the table. Sure, we had some flashbacks and cutaways, but mostly it was everyone shooting places down for silly reasons, and the gag began to grate before too long.
Obviously, an episode like this is going to rely on crazy, rapid-fire dialogue between everyone and nonsensical joke upon nonsensical joke. Pretty much every Happy Endings is like this; there’s usually more plot, but not that much more. But I kept thinking there should be another element for everyone to play with—maybe they should have gone to more restaurants, or run into more ex-girlfriends, or whatever. I assume the episode had a limiting premise almost as a challenge to itself, and it mostly succeeded admirably—I like these characters, and I like watching them bounce silly jokes around. But it just wasn’t quite at classic level.
That’s enough about what I don’t like! Here’s what I did like! The Brad and Jane “twist” where he had a Mexican restaurant he would break up with girls at was a nice way to give us a brief glimpse of their pre-married lives and underline what it is about Jane that appeals to Brad so much. The whole thing was done with a touch of heart, but it wasn’t overly sappy and didn’t needlessly dominate the episode (lengthening their spat beyond five minutes would have just seemed silly).
Max’s increasing delirium as his hunger grew was great fun and gave Adam Pally a lot to play around with—Max is always heightened, but he tends to work well when he’s given a vague reason to be so heightened. As they finally get to a place that serves them bread, he stops halfway through a bonkers plan that may require Dave to quickly grow a mustache, realizing that his famishment was driving everything.
Alex, meanwhile, continues to get choice line after choice line, mostly revolving around two things—how much food she eats and how much trouble she has making sense of the things people say. But her two best moments were all down to Elisha Cuthbert’s delivery—“I have a brain idea!” (that’s just a great line) and her deadened “I’m Dave” at the end of the episode when everyone switches bodies.
Penny was a little under-served, even though she was supposedly the focus of the episode (it was her birthday). I know that one of the core jokes for her character is how pathologically unlucky in love she is, but even if she’s cursed on her birthday, she came off a little too sad here. I prefer it when she’s strong and confident, and the insanity that comes out of that vibe wrecking her relationships. But, in light of the curse, I’ll let it slide this one episode.
Yeah, you look like a tree out of ten at best. Oh, let’s go to Times Square and get a Famous Ray’s Pizza! Oh, I’m stuck in a Pacino! Hoo-ah!”
At one of Penny’s birthdays, a clown flatlined. “That was the most hilarious near-death experience I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Anthony Anderson play tennis,” says Jane.
Dave’s underage ex-girlfriend returns, and this time she has a boyfriend with a car. “Can he rent a U-Haul without his parents’ signature? Because I can.” “His parents are dead.”
Brad orders a taco by asking for “meat lettuce and cheese in one of those crispy half moon envelope things.”
Max suggests talking about imaginary restaurants. “For example, where does Gollum eat?”