Is Party Down a comedy or a tragedy? Well, obviously it’s a comedy. There are enough jokes, japes, and comedy-elite guest stars (hi Kerry Kenney and Rob Huebel!) to give it that designation in the modern sense. But what about in the more classical sense? In the Shakespearean comedic mold, for example, comedic plots and misunderstandings entangle the characters in a series of lighthearted events that culminate in a happy ending (usually one or a series of marriages); in the Shakespearean tragic mold, a “tragically flawed” but sympathetic protagonist endures a variety of struggles that culminate in everyone being much worse off than they were (usually dead). Now, minus the marriage and death, which of those sounds more like Party Down?
Party Down played with that concept brilliantly tonight with a straight-up comedy of errors that ends poorly for almost everyone involved. (Shakespearean scholars would call this a problem play, or as Kyle puts it, “all of these little misunderstandings adding up to this tragic ending.”) Setting the whole thing at the opening-night party of a community-theatre production of what looked very much like a comedy of errors was not only a nice (albeit obvious) way to frame this construct, it also provided a perfect arena for the sort of over-the-top comedy that doesn’t always play so well in Party Down’s down-to-earth atmosphere. (In what other context would Roman’s deliciously awkward Dionysian orgy with Kenny and Huebal have worked? Probably none.)
There were certainly elements of this episode that bordered on slapsticky (which I don’t really mind, but judging by the reaction to the funeral episode a couple weeks back, some of you do), and yeah, maybe setting it in a theatre was a little gimmicky (by PD standards at least). But the tight plotting and excellent-as-always performances kept it all glued together. The writing on Party Down has already proved extremely adept at bringing some really complex plotting together in very simple yet satisfying ways, particularly this season, but tonight’s episode was an exemplar in that regard. Let’s review all the mistaken identities and misunderstandings that went into “Not On Your Wife Opening Night”:
• After she pays him a compliment and he catches her staring at the frosting he doesn’t know he has on his ass, Ron convinces himself that Lydia is into him. He haplessly flirts with her (“Not if I see you first…”) before taking “the direct approach,” which results in a face full of mace.
• When the director of the community theatre (Jim Piddock) tells his former protégé Kyle that the theatre’s regular donor hasn’t ponied up her usual $10,000 check, Kyle vows to “convince” her using his floppy-haired charm. He successfully seduces the red-shirted “Margaritte,” only to find out it was actually the actress who played “Margaritte” in the play, so named to honor the donor. Kyle, thatch-headed devil that he is, turns his advances on the correct red-shirted Margaritte (Rachel Harris), but is unsuccessful because…
• She’s a lesbian! A high-powered lesbian producer at Warner Bros. with a crush on Casey (more on that in a moment) and an ongoing affair with the director’s wife, hence her reluctance to donate. We see her and the director’s wife slipping out from behind curtains and doorways throughout the night, and while it was pretty obvious what the deal was early on, that was a nice little homage to classic farce.
• After talking about their kiss in The Guten-hot-tub, Casey and Henry are back to “doing the shtick again,” Prohibition banter and all, but they quickly find themselves locked in another passionate embrace backstage after Casey dons a burqua costume from the play. Lydia walks in on them, but thinks Henry is making out with the leading lady.
• Lydia lets slip in front of the director that she saw Henry making out with the leading lady, who also happens to be his cuckolding wife. But Casey won’t let Henry explain what really happened, as it would out her as a straight girl in front of the lesbian producer she’s been flirting with in order to get roles.
• After the director’s wife comes clean about her affair with Margaritte, she justifies it by saying he’s been sleeping with the mousy stage manager, Mona, who’s been shuffling around throughout the party and is “obviously in love” with him. “That’s preposterous!” he exclaims, only to find out later that Mona has the $11,000 that will save his theatre.
• Casey overhears Lydia talking to Ron about Henry’s backstage shenanigans, indignantly scolding him “I thought we weren’t going to say anything” in front of them. A classic “I thought—” “But you—” “But he said—” (“Oh brother!”) exchange, topped with Roman’s drunken “Magnicifent!” capped the episode.
Okay, so there are a couple of happy-ish endings in there: The theatre is saved and Roman got a little love. And hey, maybe the theatre director and Mona will live happily ever after. (She was great in Misery.) But long-term, our characters are no better off than they were when things started, and Henry and Casey’s relationship is tiptoeing ever closer to disaster (or perhaps happily ever after, but knowing this show I’m not betting on it). Thankfully, we’ve evolved past binary comedy/tragedy distinctions, and the tragic undertones of Party Down are precisely what elevate the comedy. And anyway, who needs happy endings when there are “pansexual frenzies” to be had?
• Hey, let’s pretend it’s 100 years ago and anyone gives a shit about theatre!
• “So you were all magnificent, which means that statistically, magnificent is average and you were all average.” Semantics burn!
• “Bear is slang for a large hairy gay man.” “Well that explains a lot. I’m going to have to change my online dating profile.”
• “Be careful, he’s a total cougar.” “What’s that?”
• “You called me an achiever!” The humiliations of Ron continue, right down to his snot-drip.
• “Since when did ladies karaoke night become lesbian scissoring night?”
• No new images on the Starz site, so let's just go with a generic Henry shot, shall we?