When I interviewed Adam Scott earlier this year, he mentioned that Party Down was, at one point, being developed by HBO, who wanted to turn it into “a more inside-industry specific thing… They were more thinking in the Entourage vein.” Go ahead and try to picture that, and thank your lucky Starz that the show ended up, in tact, where it did. Party Down is basically the inverse of Entourage, deriving most of its humor from pissing on the very thing that show embodies: the dream of Hollywood superstardom. More specifically, it typically casts those who blatantly chase that dream—Kyle, Lydia—as the clowns, while courting sympathy for those who’ve been crushed by it in one way or another—Henry, sometimes Casey, and tonight, Roman.
Aside from Ron, who’s the only character on PD who has no real ties to the entertainment industry, Roman is the most outsider-y of these industry outsiders. Yes, even more so than clueless Lydia, whose blind enthusiasm and willingness to court Hollywood make her more engaged with it than principled, haughty Roman. Even when surrounded by the spoils of selling out, spoils that he himself wants—“Really? Off the tits? That’s so cool.”—he can’t bring himself to adapt in the ways he needs to in order to achieve those spoils. (Contrast this with Kyle, who will happily shuck and jive at the faintest whiff of a role.) Perhaps the best example of this was last season, when Roman couldn’t set aside his hard-sci-fi standards long enough to bang a ready-and-willing porn star; or maybe this season, when the only thing that could make him consider rewriting his opus-of-the-moment was being forced to by an overzealous Steve Guttenberg.
In tonight’s episode, Roman has to face the consequences of his unwavering integrity when the Party Down crew is hired to cater a party celebrating his former writing partner’s $1.5 million sale of a spec adaptation of a trilogy by his favorite sci-fi author/keepmaster (played with typical spacey aplomb by Dave “Gruber” Allan). For most of the episode, Roman’s resentment and urine-centered revenge strategy toward smarmy sellout Joel Munt (Human Giant smarm-meister Paul Scheer) didn’t really resonate as anything more than typical Roman pettiness. But the scene where he decides to set aside the peeing-in-the-champagne plan and go “Iago style” on Joel by quizzing him at length on his adaptation threw the whole thing into sharper relief. With the exception of the unfilmable dilemma of the disembodied voice, Joel had accounted and solved for all of the book’s labyrinthine details, throwing Roman’s assessment of him as a “hack” into question. Clearly he’s just as knowledgeable and skilled as Roman—perhaps more so, judging by what we’ve seen of Roman’s writing—but he’s also willing to play the game, to schmooze and ply people with champagne and cocaine in order to get what he wants. He’s also willing to throw people under the bus—including Roman, whose idea for solving the disembodied voice problem he passes off as his own—but then again, so is Roman. But there's more to Hollywood than backstabbing; there's also brown-nosing, and that's where Roman draws the line.
Allan’s character, the epically named A.F. Gordon Theodore, provided nice—and hilarious—juxtaposition to Roman’s dilemma. Like Roman, he’s an outsider enamored of Hollywood who is also enamored of his own intellectual superiority. (“I’m intrigued by popular art forms, and I’ve always been curious to experience Hollywood.”) But since he’s the one being courted by the brown-nosers, he’s willing to overlook Joel's unscrupulousness if it means he can get some more Calvados and ride off into the night with a carload of the local womenfolk. His parting words to Roman—“He’s got the drugs and the women, and the keep is a rather cold and lonely place”—speaks volumes about the place integrity has in the Entourage-ian side of Hollywood.
Even with Kyle’s final assessment of the situation—“A huge dork just got into a car full of hot chicks. If that’s not a sign of hope, I don’t know what is.”—Roman’s night ended on a darkly poignant note. Perhaps that’s why the other storylines fell a little flat in comparison. As always, there were funny moments to be had in Henry’s quest to break into the van so he and Casey could have some worksex—especially when Kyle entered the picture with his pop-locking skills—and Lydia’s “accidental” coke binge. (“Ed Harris! What next?”) But the way they dovetailed with the main story was a little clunky by Party Down standards. It all felt a little chaotic and muddled, like… well, like being on coke. I’m sure some viewers will balk at Lydia’s shrill antics, or the “cartoonish” nature of Ron trying to break into the van, but those are qualities that I think often work on Party Down, provided they have some solid grounding in character or plot; tonight, though, they felt a little out of place. They weren’t deal-breakers on the level of a CGI creature, but maybe could have used another pass through the Guttenberg rewrite process.
• Okay, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, it’s highly unlikely an unknown writer would sell a spec script of an adaptation for $1.5 million, and that the author of the books being adapted would have so much power over said adaptation. It’s also highly unlikely Steve Guttenberg would invite a crew of ragtag caterers into his home for an impromptu party/hot-tubbing session. Let’s just go with it.
• The character niche that’s currently being filled by Lydia, and previously by Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge’s characters, always has a drugged-at-work plotline. So which is your favorite: Coked-up Lydia, shrooming Bobbi St. Brown, or stoned Constance? For me, Coolidge and her “purple tube of consciousness” take it in a walk.
• Let’s play Connect The Party Down Guest Stars: PD regular Adam Scott is in the upcoming Piranha 3-D with PD guest star Paul Scheer, who was in Human Giant with PD guest star Rob Huebel, who was in I Love You Man with PD producer Paul Rudd, who was in Knocked Up with PD regular Martin Starr, who was in Freaks And Geeks with PD guest star Dave “Gruber” Allan. And also there’s Bubbles from The Wire!
• There’s not really a code, is there, guys? Guys?
• “I’m in the seat named for the proverbial catbird!”
• “Revenge is a dish best served. You know… Shakespeare? Waiters?”
• A.F.’s next work? “Another trilogy. Unifying all dimensions.” “Like a 3-D trilogy. A nonilogy.” “A duodecilogy. Don’t forget time.”
• “Iago. From Othello?” “The board game?”
• “I need some pee. I’m completely dried out.”
• The proper noise to make while flinging an eighth of coke all over someone’s tits? “Glink!”
• “What twaddle. These people are philistines.” “And some Jews! That’s what’s great, everybody gets along!”
• “Who the fuck is working this party?” Finally, Joel asks what we’ve all been thinking.
• FYI, the final episode of the season is currently streaming on the Starz website, but there is still one more episode between that and tonight's episode.