I can only imagine the pitch for Adam DeVine’s House Party went something like this: “It’s like the madcap partying of Project X plus some stand-up comedy – with a dash of This Is The End thrown in -- and built-in name recognition among 18-34 year-olds thanks to DeVine’s success on Workaholics.”
A cadre of Comedy Central officials swivel in fine leather chairs to slowly nod their heads at each other, and this shaggy eight-episode dog of a show is born.
In the introductory scene of House Party, DeVine throws the doors of an elaborate mansion open. “Welcome!” he screams, shit-eating bro grin glued to his face, flinging his arms akimbo as a horde of eager people rush inside. It’s like the beginning of the best dream a social status-obsessed high school student could have: everyone wants to come to your party, and you’re the host with unlimited resources and a sassy fratitude.
Of course, any illusion that DeVine is a benevolent, cool-guy host gets rubbed out almost immediately, after he shatters a beer bottle over his forehead in an attempt to look badass. He spends the rest of the debut episode of House Party with his head ensconced in a bloody bandage, half-heartedly hitting on a friend’s date.
“Comedy Central gave me a bunch of money to throw an awesome comedy show and I blew it all on this house party,” DeVine explains the premise in an early scene. The conceit that DeVine wastes the money given to him by the network isn’t that funny, plus, it doesn’t really make sense – how is the show still functionally moving forward if he continually blows money on these parties, and also, why is a good chunk of the action taking place at the comedy show DeVine supposedly squandered?
The whole “Workaholics star throwing a debauched house party” set-up may have played a role in getting it made, but House Party’s meat is in the stand-up (and the other two Workaholics are nowhere to be found). The show’s format goes like this: Between short interludes of DeVine getting into mischief at his luxuriously appointed frat bash, three emerging stand-up comedians perform sets. In the first episode, the comedians are Ahmed Bharoocha, Andrew Santino, and Barry Rothbart. All three man-comics perform confident sets (Bharoocha has an entertaining bit about God as a teenager, Santino does a spot-on southside Chicago dad accent – and I would know, I have one – and Rothbart has the night’s funniest joke about dolphin rape). In the second episode, comedians Liza Treyger, Josh Rabinowitz, and Sean Donnelly deliver strong sets of their own – so much so that I really wish this was a straightforward showcase for talent curated by DeVine, without the amiable but aimless party sketches.
In those party sketches, DeVine plays himself exactly as he plays Adam on Workaholics, as a gleeful narcissist who wants to throw the best parties but is mainly concerned with making sure he’s having a good time. Even when DeVine’s introducing the comedians, part of that belligerent persona remains, but it’s interesting to see DeVine pumping the crowd up for up-and-coming comedians interspersed between sketches of him bouncing around the mansion like a smug, drunk Gatsby.
The second episode’s funniest “at the party” scene involves a gaggle of dorky middle-aged men led by DeVine’s put-upon neighbor, Clarence, infiltrating the party and smoking weed out of increasingly absurd objects, including what looks like a large, flaky croissant and an old arcade game. It’s ridiculous, juvenile, thinly connected to reality – and it made me laugh, so those scenes aren’t a complete waste of time.
House Party isn’t original, and a lot of the party scenes feel like slipshod filler for the stand-up acts. But that’s OK. Shows should be judged at how well they fulfill their ambitions, and on this count House Party is a more of a success than a failure. It’s haphazard and sophomoric – as anything airing at 12:30 a.m. on Comedy Central should be. DeVine is at his best in his hosting capacity, serving as an emcee providing emerging comedians with a platform.
Whether you like House Party will depend on two things: how you feel about Adam DeVine, and whether you think the featured comedians are funny. DeVine’s smarm knob is perpetually stuck on 11, which can be grating, but his enthusiasm for his ringleader role is charming enough that I can overlook the fact that the premise doesn’t make any goddamn sense and the party sketches could be done away with altogether for a better show.
And the featured comedians aren’t quite ready for primetime, but it’s good to see newer talent getting an opportunity to work on their acts for television. Even though the party shtick’s luster is rubbed thinner than the bezel on an iPad Air (yep, that's a technology joke) the solid sets from upstart comedians are a reason to keep tuning in. And if DeVine can work some of Workaholic’s wordplay and hangout charm into the party sketches, House Party could become something to set out to watch, instead of something to keep on while you’re eating chips after a night at the bar.
- “I’ve been in a real pepperjack cheese phase lately.” Feel you there, DeVine.
- Favorite sketch line: “Oh, I’m a troll? That doesn’t make sense because I’m not wearing a jewel in my belly.”
- “My new fitness goal is to be faster than the Google walking directions.” Sean Donnelly is the strongest comedian in the second episode, and his bit about fitness gets an A.