Party Down: "Constance Carmell Wedding"
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Party Down: "Constance Carmell Wedding"

Genevieve: Seeing as this is the last Party Down of the season, and quite possibly ever, I thought it would be fun to send it out with a special-edition, super-sized TV Club entry. In honor of Party Down’s near-flawless guest-star record, I’m bringing in fellow TV Clubber,  Party Down superfan, and all-around good guy Steve Heisler for a cameo, to join me in a discussion about this season, this show, and, eventually, this episode.

In case it’s not obvious, I adore Party Down, and rank it among the best comedies currently on television, in the company of Community, Parks And Recreation, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. But writing about sitcoms week after week is tough; unlike hour-long dramas or even reality shows, there are few ongoing plotlines and character developments to unpack each week, so most of the discussion boils down to rehashing what was funny and what wasn’t, a highly subjective proposition that often devolves into unnecessary nit-pickery. (Looking back, there are some episodes earlier in the season I should have graded higher.)

This season as a whole has been reliably excellent, and in my opinion better overall than the first, which got off to a sort of slow start. Sure, losing Jane Lynch was tough, and Megan Mullally’s character didn’t really show her full potential until the company picnic episode, but the other characters have been firing on all cylinders from the get-go—especially Kyle and Roman, who both had a tendency to be a bit one-note last season. But I haven’t watched the first season since its original run, so perhaps it’s receding in my memory behind the fresher episodes. Steve, you watched the first season right before the second premièred, so you probably have a sharper perspective: How do you think this season stacks up to the first?

Steve: Genevieve is right: I was stuck at my parents' house in February recovering from shoulder surgery, only to discover that they had Netflix On Demand. And because of my friendship with Genevieve, the words "Netflix On Demand" are forever equated to "Watch Party Down already, wontcha?" Maybe it was the shoulder healing drugs (read: drugs), but I breezed through all 10 episodes in one day. Fantastic.

My feeling about the two seasons is that the first laid the necessary character groundwork and established some basic rules of the world. The drama was compelling, if predictable. Casey and Henry had a will-they, won't-they romance. Ron dreamed of bigger things in the food-service industry. Roman and Kyle bickered. It's all stuff we've seen before, and the surprising moments came in the way the show would wring humor from these familiar premises.

But season two is where Party Down truly let its freak flag fly. We watched as Ron's successful facade came crumbling down while he begged his way back onto the team, which made the draft day episode—and Ron's obsession with the amount of "stuff" that comes out of his dick—all the more funny. Casey and Henry's lives collapsed into each other, and suddenly Casey's dressed up in community theater costumes and causing an inadvertent ruckus. And for all Roman talks about being screwed out of a good deal, we finally see his nemesis, even attend one of his awkwardly lavish parties. Party Down finds its second season whirlwind of slapstick, wit, and whimsy in the lives of these characters, growing more fragile and endearing by the episode.

This all comes back to the point Genevieve made a few episodes ago about Party Down's more dramatic elements. Personally, I find tension to be a necessary part of comedy—the more, the better. And I think the high stakes on Party Down result from the limits the show places on, well, everything else. Sets remain static throughout the episode, budgets are tiny, and guest stars appear, I'm guessing, largely as favors. Starz has let the show organically become what it is today. I guess now's a good time to throw back to Genevieve: Do you think this show could exist on a major network?

Genevieve: I don’t know that I would want it to. For as low-profile and flummoxing as the Starz deal is—I watched tonight’s episode on Direct TV 101 a week before it premièred on Starz/Netflix, but several weeks after it was leaked then yanked from the Starz website—I don’t think the show would have developed its unique sensibility anywhere else. The thing that’s kept Party Down under the radar and also made it so unexpectedly delightful is the same thing that would probably doom it on a bigger network: For all the familiar elements you mentioned above, it’s not like anything else on TV. There’s no real comparison point with Party Down that a network could use to promote the show and draw in viewers. You know, “Parks And Recreation: It’s The Office, but with parks!” It seems like Party Down has developed in a vacuum, one without notes from network executives or marketing departments. And yeah, it’s woefully underwatched because of that; but it also gives the show that “buried treasure” feeling, a secret cache of awesome comedy that’s just for those of us who care enough to seek it out.

Of course, the flip side of that is that no one’s watching the show: After an initial surge the first week, viewership numbers have dwindled back down to a dismal 100,000 range (though I’m still not clear where Netflix views factor in there, if at all). Combined with the fact that Adam Scott and Ryan Hanson are both off to new shows, I’m not betting on a third season. (Not that I don’t think it could be done: As we saw with Mullally, characters can be swapped out fairly easily in this show, and provided that they’re replaced with equally capable actors—and the writing stays as strong as it’s been—I think the focus could shift from Henry to Ron, Casey, or even Roman fairly easily.) So I watched tonight’s season finale as a series finale, and from the looks of it, the writers treated it that way too.

I like that the season ended on a high-profile wedding again, though unlike last season’s Sulu nuptials, this was only high-profile in the world of Party Down fandom: Constance Carmell’s wedding, complete with the return of super-duper-mega TV star Jane Lynch. I may be looking too deep into this, but it seemed like the writers were making a point about how well replacements can work on this show by having Lynch and Mullally bicker back and forth: Constance left her mark on the show, but Lydia is no Darrin Two… she’s her own entity, not just a pale imitation.

But this was more than a reunion episode; it also put a bow—albeit a sloppy, sort of askance bow—on most of the characters’ storylines. Ron ends up with Danielle—despite telling her in the most callous way possibly about her parents’ divorce—and presumably on the fast track to the operations manager gig now that her mom is in charge of Party Down. Lydia finally finds a man to grope her flanks in the newly divorced, newly broke former Party Down boss Bolus Lugozshe. Roman inadvertently writes his masterpiece, The Serpent In The Mirror, after accidently eating a bunch of high-grade weed and finding himself in a purple tube of consciousness. Even Constance gets a characteristically weird happy ending when her new husband kicks it before they even get to the honeymoon, and despite his daughter’s best efforts to block her with a prenup, she winds up with his fortune. Kyle… well, Kyle’s just keepin’ on keepin’ on, but we can only assume that Karma Rocket’s “My Struggle” will be a big hit in all the Aryan clubs.

 Henry and Casey, as the emotional heart of the show, got the best send-off in my opinion. As we all predicted, Casey’s scene in the Apatow movie got cut, causing her to despondently ask Henry—rightly so—“If you’re not crazy enough to believe it for you, how are you going to believe it for me?” That whole scene was great, and really highlighted what a great relationship Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan have developed for their characters. And capping it all off with Henry going to audition for Velour—I’m sorry, “Velower”—to prove to himself and her that he does want to do more than wear the pink bowtie… well that was just about perfect. I think I may have teared up. What about you Steve? How do you think “Wedding” worked as a finale, and as a stand-alone episode?

Steve: As a stand-alone episode, I have to admit it was a little clunky. The Constance-in-the-car scene was so oddly bereft of emotion. I mean, of any kind, because I'm still not 100-percent clear if Constance was playing the old man the entire time, or genuinely in love with him. That scene could have solidified it one way or the other, but was murky in the middle. And Ron telling Danielle about her parents' divorce didn't do much, because they still wound up together at the end. The knots were tied up a little too unsatisfyingly.

Yet there were some really wonderful moments in this episode that made me comfortable with this being a possible series finale. You're right about Henry and Casey, but I also got a kick out of Kyle and Roman's resolution, so to speak. Kyle's deep insecurities, and propensity for ignoring them, came to head with his White Power-empowering performance. And Roman, so obsessed with getting his masterpiece out in the open, was forced to see his words as a rumpled pile of toilet paper. Best. Hollywood. Metaphor. Ever.

So it's okay if Party Down got a little greedy in this episode: It's earned the right to be slightly unsatisfying. Though I think that's what I ultimately loved about Party Down most—there's a lot of humor in being unsatisfied.

Grades:
Episode: A-
Season: A

Stray observations:

Roman’s freak-out enters the pantheon of excellent Party Down drug scenes, and Martin Starr was clearly having a blast doing it. “Either I’m going to die any instant, or I’ve been dead a while. If there’s anything that could be done to help me… you could put me in a life machine.”

• Speaking of: This purple tube of consciousness I keep hearing about sounds pretty great. How do I get there?

• "Nothing says love like a basket of yak poo."

• Hey, it’s the guy who discovered Croft!

• “What part is flanks on a human? Vagina?” “Oh God, don’t guess.”

• “We finish each other’s…” “…food, I know”

• “Come on Ron, it’s me, I know that look. Is it your bowels?”

• Lydia’s requirements for life are remarkably similar to my own: “Paid rent, some form of insurance, and TV, preferably with cable and DVR.”

• Duffles!

• Ryan Hanson’s take on the L.A. Rocker Douche was spot-on. I could hear the guyliner in every note.

• Y'all caught that "directed by" tag, didn't you? Nicely done, Ken Marino. 

• Hopefully Party Down will get hit with the egg of blessing and get a third season. If not, it’s been real, you guys.

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