It’s a little incredible that Party Down has waited this long to throw its catering crew into the arena of organized sports. The worlds of professional athletics and Hollywood are similar and intertwined, yet there’s also a fundamental tension between them, the outcome of the “jocks vs. nerds” mentality that’s beaten into us by… well, Hollywood. As ill-suited as the Party Down crew may be to the Hollywood burlesque, they at least sort of understand it, whereas only former small-town gal Lydia seems to have any grasp of what’s at stake for star college QB Cole Landry on draft day. (“Do any of you even live in America? Am I the only one here who's been in a Champs? Good gravy!”) For everyone else, it’s a chance to disengage entirely and watch—or in Roman’s case, scorn—from the sidelines until it’s time to get paid and go home.
And yet, this being Party Down, our plucky caterers wind up getting just as entangled with the leatherheads as they did with the porn stars and rock gods and wannabe starlets. Lydia enthusiastically immerses herself in the Landry family’s hopes and dreams, motivated once again by the prospect of a snagging a man. Roman reluctantly finds himself engaging in a war of wits with one of the “neckless mutants,” who just happens to also be a pre-med sci-fi enthusiast. Ron’s preoccupation with his “wad problem” finds him handing Dr. Linebacker a load of his load at the most inopportune moment, indirectly contributing to the televised outing of the closeted Cole. Even Henry and Casey, usually content to remain in their little bubble of flirtation, end up embroiled in the personal drama that sinks, then saves, the gridiron hopeful: After Casey blows her role as Cole’s beard, his boy on the side—worked up after commiserating with Henry about being “not arm-candy cool, but fuck-buddy cool”—freaks out during the live television feed, sealing the QB’s fate as the face of the (apparently progressive) San Francisco 49ers and Abercrombie And Fitch.
“Cole Landry’s Draft Day Party” is one of those great Party Down episodes where all the different storylines come together so effortlessly that it’s hard—or unnecessary—to determine which is the “A” story, the “B” story, and so forth. Then again, Party Down’s humor isn’t plot-driven; it’s circumstantial, dependent on how its characters interact with and influence their surroundings each week, so the humor stems less from what happened than from how it happened.
There are throughlines, of course: Henry and Casey’s relationship, being the only thing that actually changes from week to week, often gets the most screen time, as it did tonight. But, like all will-they-or-won’t-they sitcom relationships, it’s also becoming less interesting as time goes by. Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott have such great chemistry and delivery that it’s easy to get caught up in their flirtations and ignore the signs that this relationship is most likely not going anywhere—just like they’re doing! As much as I love seeing Caplan smirk, “You are a runty little puppy,” I would have happily foregone some of the Henry-Casey dialogue for a little more Kyle, who was underutilized this episode. Maybe it was because his usual adversary, Roman, was otherwise occupied with Dr. Linebacker, but Kyle seemed to hover around the edges tonight, dropping in now and then to make a funny remark (“Roman’s super into Chekhov. And Sulu.”) or further goad Ron. It’s difficult—and probably unnecessary—to give every character equal playing time every episode; but when you’re dealing with a cast that's as talented and likable across the board as Party Down’s, it’s only natural to want to spend as much time with each of them as possible.
• “How many Rons would it take to make a bukkake film?”
• “You don't think I have to bite my tongue every time I carry a tray with Santa Barbara grilled eel beaks in a baby pinecone sauce?”
• “In the real world, the only thing 36-inch thighs get you are specially made gym-teacher shorts and 30 grand a year.”
• “I’m a bit of a book buff myself!”
• “Not really a big Asimov guy. I’ll give him the three laws of robotics, but he’s mid-list.”
• “I don’t like the term ‘stage mom,’ Escapade is my teammate.”
• “Isn’t it enough to know that my shit runs at all?”
• “Hey! Language Casey, you’re a girl.”
• “Is there any way I can convince you he was going the extra mile?”
• Do you think Henry really is bothered by Casey’s role as an “animatronic love doll,” or is he really, as he says just “bothered by the logic.”
• Those of you wondering what happened to Casey’s Apatow gig, tonight you got your answer. Who wants to bet we’ll find out next week that her scene got cut?
• Each week when I write the quotes in Stray Observations, I’m struck by how anemic they are on paper. This is a quotable show, but its quotability stems more from the actors’ delivery than the words themselves.