Party Down: "Party Down Company Picnic"
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Party Down: "Party Down Company Picnic"

“There’s no order to the universe,” grouses Roman as the Party Down gang mopes away from the kickball trouncing they've just received at the hands of Valhalla catering. But the thing is, there is order to the universe; the employees of Party Down just happen to occupy the lower rungs of the pecking order.

“Stagnant” is kind of the name of the game for the PD gang, and while the show occasionally toys with mixing up the perpetual non-motion of these characters’ lives—Ron’s Soup ’R Crackers rise and fall, Casey’s cruise ship/Apatow gigs, Henry’s relationship with Uda and ascent up the corporate catering ladder—they all eventually settle back into their rut, because that’s where they belong. We’re never given the impression that any of these people are destined for the greater things they believe they have coming, and the dark humor of the show stems in part from watching them overreach. (The exception is Henry, whose problem isn’t overreaching, but rather figuring out something to reach for.)

This was addressed most directly—and hilariously—in tonight’s episode via Casey’s quest for the company picnic all-around trophy and the catering contest/kickball game between Party Down and their on-aggregate-better-looking rivals at Valhalla, who were catering the PD company picnic. Despite Casey’s shit-talking and victory over all-around champ Garlan Greenbush (“What are you, an unemployed wizard or something?”), and the PD kickball team’s brief moment of glory after bringing Greenbush in as a ringer (“one, two, three, FUCK 'EM IN THE ASS!”), everyone went home a ketchup-stained, trophy-less loser.

Ron’s attempts at glory at the company picnic were relatively higher-stakes, but all the funnier for it. Granted, I could watch a show that’s nothing but Ken Marino get beaned with random objects, but his horseshoe- and kickball-induced injuries were almost poignant, a sort of letter from the universe saying, “Know your role.” Gussied up in his best (read: only) suit, Ron attempts to slide into the role left vacant by Alan Duk, who’s off teaching Spanish on Community, I mean in jail for welfare fraud. Even the glimmer of a silver lining—his flirtation with the boss’ daughter, who helps him sabotage Uda with “marijuana joints” so Ron can take the management gig that’s been offered to her—is snuffed out in the end when she reveals she’s engaged. Ron’s eventual “happy ending,” when Henry offers to give the position of team leader to him, is characteristically pathetic, plopping him right back where he was a year ago, but minus the pay raise and benefits. Oh well, at least he has the title and responsibilities.

Henry has also regressed back to where he began, ending his relationship with Uda and stepping down as Team Leader. He characterizes his decision to leave Uda for Casey as “a roll of the dice,” but I wonder how accurate that is. It seems like settling into corporate life with Uda would be more of a roll of the dice—however unappealing—than going back to his no-responsibility, no-ambition job and hook-up relationship with Casey. As we see from his ambivalence toward the big kickball game, Henry doesn’t need to be a winner; he’s fine with being tied at zero. How this will sit with Casey and her win-it-all mentality should be interesting, especially considering the finale (and Adam Scott’s departure from the show, if it continues) is on the horizon.

Lydia finagling a gig for Escapade as a singing shoe did provide one tiny victory on tonight’s episode—well, two, if you consider Lydia actually having a funny storyline a victory, which I do. The company-picnic conceit of this episode allowed for the introduction of Escapade The Triple Threat, giving us a chance to see Lydia’s stage-mom struggles rather than just hearing her talk about them. Kyle advising Escapade on the best bars to hit on the road to Lohan-esque fame was excellent (“Oh, and do you shave your arms?”), but the highlight was Lydia and her tiny scissors taking down Kyle and his $300 shirt. (“So you get her to sing, shit… morsel!”) Her and her daughter’s mild desperation mixed with cluelessness and general mediocrity pretty much sums up the show’s M.O.: the comedy of failure.

Stray observations:

• A hearty welcome back to Kristen Bell and her ongoing Bluetooth-headset gags: “What is it about 'more wieners' that you do not understand?”

• I didn’t think Lizzy Caplan could get any more adorable, but she managed it tonight. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: She should have Zooey Deschanel’s it-girl status. They look like sisters and Lizzy actually displays some personality behind the doe eyes.

• Roman’s advice to Lydia: “You’re going to have to be the biggest asshole you can be. Which is why I struggle. I’m too nice… Hurry up you stupid queer!”

• Nat Faxon as Garlan (whom Reno 911 fans might remember as “Milkshake Man”) was aces tonight as well: “Skynyrd just puts me in a weird space, you know?”

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