Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Party Down: "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday"

Illustration for article titled Party Down: "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday"

Part of the challenge of writing Party Down, I’d imagine, is coming up with new, original situations in which to place the characters as the episodes tick by. Real caterers probably spend 80-90 percent of their time working birthdays and weddings, but Party Down ticked those off the list last season, along with a bunch of other less probable but still believable setups. This season though, we’ve already had a mega-glam backstage party (because those totally still exist), a funeral catered at the funeral home, and a motherfucking orgy. Tonight’s episode is the highest of the high concepts we’ve gotten this season, a non-starter birthday party that morphs into an artsy-fartsy salon hosted by Steve Guttenberg.

But that’s the funny thing about Party Down: As its comedic constructs are getting more outlandish, its characters are becoming more fully realized. Henry and Casey have always been the cynical, black heart of the show, so their issues are fairly well established at this point. But auxiliary players like Kyle and Roman are beginning to branch out beyond being oil-and-water foes set up to clash with each other week after week. And Ron, whose character last season was mostly defined by his singular, all-consuming purpose (Soup-r-Crackers), is becoming more believable as he actually deals with the failure he spent all of last season ignoring. I’m not saying that these characters were completely one-dimensional last season—because that season would certainly not be nearly as enjoyable as it was if that were the case—but this season is already having more fun exploring the characters’ individual foibles and weaknesses. And what better place to explore the foibles and weaknesses of a bunch of struggling Hollywood-types than at a party with Steve Guttenberg?

Having Guttenberg act as personal cheerleader/mentor/art and wine critic to the shlubs of Party Down Catering worked far better than it should have, considering any cameo by The Gute these days inherently toes the irony line. But the trappings of his success, coupled with his absurd Power Of Positive Thought sloganeering, inspired a lot of reflection and even motivation in his newfound caterer friends. Roman realized—thanks to Gute’s insistence on a table-read of the terrible script he and his writing partner (McLovin, I mean Christopher Mintz-Plasse) are shopping to producers—that not only does a writer actually have to share his writing at some point, but also that rewriting it a couple times might help too. Kyle realized that being big and handsome might not be enough to win over his educated chick-of-the-week, forcing him to ask Casey for “any smart shit I could say.” (Collette eventually ending up with Guttenberg was a nice little bow on that bit.) Lydia realized… well, Lydia is still a caricature, but her efforts to understand the rich-and-famous lifestyle espoused by The Gute definitely made for some funny exchanges. (“I’m tasting sticks. And rope.” “Thank you!”)

Ron, on the other hand, has regressed hard, and I’m not just talking about his haircut and new backup shirt. His determination to cater the shit out of the party he was a guest at, combined with his instinct to call his AA sponsor at the first sign of trouble, hearkens back to Classic Ron. Of course, the fact that he only called his sponsor to help him de-shrimp Guttenberg’s iceberg art, and that he actually seemed totally unaffected by the temptations of the party, suggest that maybe it’s less a regression and more actual growth. I like to think that Ron’s descent into a pot-clouded coffin of madness will have some lingering effects on his character, rather than just being a clownish detour.

Henry, meanwhile, has to confront the fact that maybe he shouldn’t have given up on his dream when both The Gute and Casey are blown away by his mad acting skills during the second reading of Roman’s script. But despite hearing “No risk, no reward” parroted at him throughout the night, Henry still stands by his “No risk, no risk” motto. And Casey has to confront the fact that Henry isn’t getting over that whole “breaking-my-heart issue” any time soon when her hot-tub advances are rebuffed. Their story is getting increasingly depressing, but when juxtaposed with the naked wang of Steve Guttenberg, which appears just moments later, it maintains the darkly comic tone that we expect from this show.

Stray Observations

“The only words that aren’t technobabble to a producer a ‘coke’ and ‘whore.’”

• Roman’s reaction when Guttenberg sweetly stroked his face was my favorite moment of the night.


• “Casey, you are ‘Slave Girl.’” “What a shock.”

• Homoerotic subtext or Jungian shadow figures? You decide.

• “Are science fiction and heart mutually exclusive? One word: Cocoon.