One of the best aspects of Party Down’s ingenious new-setting-every-week framework is the opportunities it affords to see our characters interact not only with broadly drawn celebrity types, but also potential future versions of themselves. With the exception of perpetually laconic Henry, every one of our leads is positively boiling over with ambition, their desire to be something else, anything else practically overwhelming any rational thought as to what that something might actually be — beyond, of course “successful.” This week’s lesson was for Casey, who came face-to-face not only with opportunity (in the form of a promising “Apatow audition”) but with the bitchy suburban rat’s nest potentially waiting for her if and when said opportunity dries up. (Also featured? Fake sex in front of children dressed as bunny rabbits!)
The setting — the charity auction at a prestigious L.A. preschool, with the ravenous, social-climbing parents found there — were far scarier than anything you’d find lurking backstage at a Jackal Onassis concert. As usual, Casey won’t stay off her phone or even put it on vibrate due to her wearing her “thick pants” that day. The reason for all the texting? The aforementioned Apatow audition as well as an opportunity to read for a harried mom role, something that offends her, as she is more often typecast as “the fuckable waitress.” (Or the “fuckable-but-only-if-you’re-a-gawky-teenager-at-a-ski-resort Spin reporter” — we saw Hot Tub Time Machine so you don’t have to!) Part of what makes Casey so compelling is that while she is super cute and clever and etc., she also really wants to make it, a desire so naked that it almost seems to offend even her (but not enough to stop chasing roles, even ones she’s apparently “too Jewy” for, like The Diary of Anne Frank). As she awkwardly admits to Henry about her on-screen opportunity with Seth Rogen et al: “I don’t want to put too much stock in it, but I sort of feel like if I get this it will pretty much validate every single decision I’ve ever made in my entire life that led me to this moment.” Yikes!
Casey’s tsuris attracts the eye of one of the party’s hosts, a former Groundling-turned-Stepford-soccer-mom named Annie (played by Andrea Savage who — fun fact! — played Casey in the original, filmed-in-Rob-Thomas’s-backyard pilot of Party Down). Annie’s life has gone from casually snarking at the world to desperately trying to please everyone in it in order to get her kid into a school that will, more than likely, deliver him to “Stanford or Yale” and thus keep him from “sucking off truck drivers” to pay for trade school. While we enjoyed seeing Lizzy Caplan (just end the sentence there!) play off Andrea Savage in these scenes, we must admit the bow that topped all of the drama (the fundraiser is a success! Casey gets the Apatow part!) seemed a tad neatly tied.
Of course, all that character juxtaposition and dramatic resolution allowed the nuttiness to spread elsewhere. Of particular note was the always-entertaining Roman/Kyle brinksmanship, this time set off because Kyle was up for a part in a film version of geek bible Snow Crash and couldn’t even say the character’s name correctly, while Roman wanted to borrow $80 to bid on a pristine copy of Uncanny X-Men #4. Infuriated, Roman rails against Kyle: “You’re not an actor, you’re a haircut.” And then Kyle burns him back with an Oscar (or at least Golden Globe)-worthy fake cry, leaving Roman with one of the show’s signature slow boils of quiet shame.
What else? Oh, now that Ron is back from his failed Soup’er Crackers experiment, he’s having a fine time undermining Henry the way he feels Henry used to undermine him when he was Team Leader. Except his main avenues of mutiny involve mistaking Eddie Money for Eddie Murphy and sporting fetid armpit-stains not usually seen on people who don’t play left guard for the University of Miami or, we dunno, Paul Bunyan. He also has a plan to “get” Henry that involves having loud, fake sex with Lydia, which results in us getting to hear Megan Mullally shriek “Yeah, Cockmaster! Get in! Balls too. There’s room!” but also results in Ron getting dumped by his McLovin-loving ladyfriend, Mandy. So, kind of a wash.
We also had the return of J.K. Simmons as the bewilderingly profane film producer Leonard Stiltskin and Joey Lauren Adams as his roving trophy wife. As he did in last year’s outstanding “Taylor Stiltskin’s Sweet 16” episode, Simmons slays in the role, doing an expert spit-take and screaming, “Tell him to bring kneepads and a fucking appetite for manjuice!” It’s also left to Simmons to deliver the episode’s most weirdly affecting moment, when — angry over being tricked into overbidding for a non-existent lunch with Tom Hanks (you had to be there) — he confronts Henry, bellowing, “Here’s a promise you fucking has-been never-was: You’ll never work in this town again.” And Henry, passively, replies “I know.” The ambiguity is great. By giving up so utterly, Henry is immune to the slings and arrows of outrageous assholes that define Hollywood life. But we’ve also never really seen him as simply happy as Casey was when she got her Apatow news. Except maybe when he himself got Casey’s Apatow news. Hmmm.
But far be it from us to turn these recaps into the mad ramblings of a dedicated show “shipper” (shudder). We’re just putting it out there. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be in the tent. Melonballing. With one hand.