One of the things that distinguishes Party Down from other workplace comedies is that it is solely a workplace comedy. Unlike other shows that fall into that category, we never see the characters on the show outside of their workplace (wherever it may be that week). I'm sure this isn't completely unique throughout the history of the subgenre, but pretty much every workplace comedy currently on air occasionally ventures outside the confines of the office (The Office, Parks And Rec), the hospital (Scrubs), or the studio (30 Rock) to flesh out its stories and its characters. Party Down doesn't, and because of that its characters have developed more slowly, through anecdotes and asides that fill out who they are when they take off the pink bowtie.
Tonight's episode wasn't a particularly rip-roaring one in terms of quotables or memorable scenes, but it was very well-structured, both in how it told its various stories and what those stories told us about the characters. We learn that Henry really is trying to take his new position seriously, scolding Ron for his pitstains and Casey for her phone calls, because he's gotten used to having health insurance and an apartment with a view of the Taco Bell. But not so seriously that he isn't still popping Vicodin to get through the day. We learn that Casey is battling the feelings of insignificance that every struggling actor goes through, inspired by a dispiriting (but ultimately successful) audition for a role in an Apatow movie and an offer to play a suburban mom, and mirrored in the former actress/current suburban mom organizing the fundraiser they're catering. And we learn that Ron is not dealing so well with his rapid rise and fall from Party Down supervisor to Soup-r-Crackers czar back down to Party Down peon, as he acts out against Henry under the guise of "modeling managerial behavior." Or maybe it's because what's good for the goose is what's good for the gander. Whatever the reason, it ends with him faux-fucking Lydia, which not only gets Henry in trouble with the "cunty" preschool director, but also gets Ron in trouble with Ladyfriend, who overhears their performance.
And of course, we have the return of the always-welcome J.K. Simmons as mega-bastard producer Leonard Stiltson. Leonard's efforts to keep anyone from winning the lunch with Tom Hanks that his wife put up for auction provided the bulk of the secondary plot points, specifically Casey's plan to help her new friend reach her fundraising goal and Lydia's futile efforts to jumpstart poor little Escapade's career via an audience with Hanks.
Really, there was a hell of a lot of conflict going on in this episode: Ron vs. Henry, Henry vs. Casey, Casey and suburban mom vs. Leonard vs. Lydia, Casey vs. her self-doubt, Henry vs. his failure, Ron vs. HIS failure. And then there were a whole bunch of other little conflicts, like Roman and Kyle's bicker-of-the-week, Leonard and his wife who hates him, and the frenemy situation going on between cool suburban mom and cunty preschool director. There was even conflict we weren't aware of until the very end, when it's revealed the coffee-cart guy sniped the copy of Uncanny X-men #4 that Roman was trying to bid on, thanks to the tip-jar earnings Henry wouldn't let his crew hustle for.
But even though so much was happening, it never felt like the episode was moving at anything above a purposeful stride: It wasn't rushed, it wasn't flashy, and it wasn't even particularly exciting. That's evidence of some very economical storytelling right there, if not necessarily highly memorable storytelling.
I'm confident that Party Down will give us some more memorable moments and lines soon enough—mostly because I've seen a few upcoming episodes—so I didn't mind spending some down time this episode filling out characters and ongoing plotlines. Party Down is so episodic—almost sketch-like—in nature that it's easy to forget that it does have several ongoing arcs that need to be addressed from week to week. This episode was a good reminder that the reason we care about these characters isn't just because they say funny things, but also because they have lives beyond the bowtie that aren't really very funny at all.
• A reliable source tells me that the issue of The Uncanny X-men up for bid marked the first appearance of the Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants, so it's OBVIOUS why Roman was so excited. Right?
• "What the fuck to people do in Idaho for the summer? Wait for the Rapture? Hoard food? Goosestepping?" I know J.K. Simmons is capable of so much more than being the angry yelling guy, but he's SO GOOD at being the angry yelling guy.
• "Fuck Entourage. And I'd be E, you'd be Turtle." Party Down really is the anti-Entourage, isn't it? Its characters are surrounded by the glamor of Hollywood without actually getting to be a part of it.
• "Well it's good to keep all your eggs in one place where you can really keep an eye on them."
• Callbacks to both the tip jar discussion from the pilot and Valhalla catering. The Party Down universe just keeps expanding!
• Has Roman shown any redeeming qualities ever? He really is a gigantic bastard, and because of that he's becoming one of my least favorite elements of the show. I know the angry nerd is a very real archetype, and Martin Starr plays it well, but it's getting a little one-note.
• "Balls too! There's room!"