Party Down: "James Ellison Funeral"
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Party Down: "James Ellison Funeral"

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Party Down

"James Ellison Funeral"

Season 2, Episode 4

I know I’ve been harping a bit on Party Downfor being “dark” so far this season, which might seem nitpicky, given that it’s a pretty dark comedy by design. But tonight’s top-notch episode proved that the show is best when it gives equal time to the “comedy” part of the equation. In fact, given the juxtaposition of the somewhat over-the-top comedy with the literally funereal setting, “James Ellison Funeral” bordered on farce tonight, particularly Ron and Kyle’s storylines. Whereas last week those two characters’ respective wallowings felt more sad than anything, tonight they came across as self-indulgent and silly, in the best way.

Given his current mental state, is there any way Ron wasn’t going to make a spectacle of himself at this funeral? Factor in repeated listenings of “Dust In The Wind” and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of joints, and it was really only a matter of time before Ron ended up trapped in a hotboxed coffin with a weird erection. Ken Marino pretty much stole tonight’s episode, but the credits sequence where he emerges from his smoky tomb to exclaim, “I saw everything” was a perfect button on an already memorable performance.  

Ron’s all-consuming concern over the legacy he’ll leave behind was the most obvious manifestation of the theme of tonight’s episode, which concerned how we want others to perceive and remember us. Funerals tend to bring this out in people, and the staff of Party Down was not exempt. Henry, disturbed by the widow’s assessment that he is a slow-cooking, non-flashy crockpot, tries to “create a little melodrama,” as Casey puts it, by (unsuccessfully) coaching the grieving white mistress of the deceased on how to blend in at the all-black funeral. In the wake of his direct-to-DVD humiliation, Kyle decides to seek out an authentic outlet for his pain, shadowing a bluesman/retired dentist so he can really “experience the blues” by getting his belt stolen (“To be whipped, like the slaves?”) and picking the shrimp out of the shrimp puffs (“Oh, like picking cotton!”). And Roman repeatedly makes an ass of himself in his efforts to convince everyone he’s “post-racial,” from arguing the semantics of jungle fever to quoting Martin Luther King/Jesus.

The episode further plays with the idea of how we’re perceived via the deceased, who’s repeatedly exulted by his wife as a good man while his mistress and bastard lovechild roam the funeral parlor. That’s a pretty conventional bit of irony, so I was pleased that Party Down took it a step further with the widow’s matter-of-fact reveal that she and her husband had an open marriage. (“I always just assumed it would be some Asian lady.”) I like that Party Down treats the venue-of-the-week concept as more than just a weekly scenery change, giving the clients their own storylines that (generally) complement those of the main characters, and I think this was one of the stronger examples of that.

Really, the only thing about tonight’s episode that didn’t work was that Lydia and Casey were underutilized. Lydia’s character has become increasingly disappointing over the past few episodes. Megan Mullally plays her with a lot of gusto, but the writers don’t seem to know what to do with her yet; she’s not as absurd as Constance was, but she’s still too cartoony to have the sort of depth that the rest of the characters do. And while I suspect there’s more to come from Casey’s newfound rep with the Apatow gang, she was really just a blip in tonight’s episode (perhaps because she was too hungover on fig vodka to mix it up too much with the rest of the crew). On the other hand, there were already so many great laughs in tonight’s episode, bigger stories for Casey and Lydia may have made the whole thing a little overwhelming—you know, like being hotboxed inside a coffin, but with laughter! 

Stray observations:

• Epitaphs all around!

• “Here lies Ronald Wayne Donald. Repeated first grade because he couldn’t figure out scissors. First in his class to master a kegstand.”

• Here lies Henry Pollard. He was not a liar, he was an actor. He was also a crockpot.

• Here lies Roman DeBeers. He wrote multiple scripts about intelligent fungus.

• Here lies Kyle Bradway. He had the direct-to-DVD, yoga-instructer-won’t-call, Xbox-is-acting-weird blues.

• Here lies Casey Klein. She hung out with Seth. You know, Rogen.

• Here lies Lydia Dunfree. Her earring was in a dead guy’s mouth.

• So if it’s not jungle fever when a black person lusts after a white person, what is it? “Temperate deciduous fever? Fjord fever?”

• Ron and Kyle singing their blues song together may have been one of the high points of this series.

• “What’s more important, the truth or someone’s feelings.” And with that once sentence, Roman sums up his entire existence.