For as much as it traces the crushed dreams and frustrating lives of people living on the wrong side of the Hollywood dream, Party Down has rarely focused on Hollywood itself. Over the course of two seasons we’ve skirted the edges of it (J.K. Simmons’s vitriol-spewing super-producer, Steve Guttenberg) and mined its unseemly underbelly (porn awards, cinephile gangsters, Steve Guttenberg) but never really confronted the typical, easy clichés of Hollywood life: the dumb blonds, the low morals, the bad ideas, the mountains of cocaine. The reason? Because they’re easy clichés! And yet despite the presence of all of these glittery, 100 percent-true-by-the-way La-La Land tropes, “Joel Munt’s Big Deal Party” shines.
Perhaps the No. 1 reason why an episode that devoted an unreasonable amount of its time to men attempting to urinate in a champagne glass still left us smiling is because it featured Bubbles from The Wire playing a coked-up superproducer making a buddy cop movie called Pride and Prejudice (Pride is a racist white cop, Prejudice is a rapper. They team up to catch a hooker-murderer, duh) actually drinking from said champagne glass full of urine. Wait, no! That’s not what we meant at all! (Though it was pretty awesome.) What we meant to say was that it worked because it grounded the easy Hollywood satire with Roman’s very real desire to become a part of it. Not necessarily because he too wanted the chance to adapt the brilliant, incredibly boring “hard sci-fi” works of reclusive Canadian beardo A.F. Gordon Theodore (wonderfully played by comedy nerd favorite Dave “Gruber” Allen) but because he too wants to have a fancy car and a woman with tits that he could theoretically do blow off of. That’s what Roman’s ex-writing partner and all-around douchey sell-out Joel Munt has going for him — and he hires Party Down for the express purpose of rubbing Roman’s coke-free nose in all of his newfound success. As played by Human Giant’s Paul Scheer (whose wife, June Diane Raphael, was featured last week as Ron’s love interest), Munt is exactly the sort of rage and revenge-obsessed weasel that Roman could be, if only he could write worth a damn or wear a Kangol as well.
While Roman is dead set on settling a score with Joel, Casey and Henry are mostly interested in boning. By putting Ron back in charge in name only, Henry seems to have found a way to keep his higher pay while returning to his super-slacky ways of yore. He and Casey also get to indulge in their trademark Utterly Delightful™ romantic banter highlighted by Casey’s insistence that she’s kind of the dude in their relationship. Henry responds by trying to prove that he can break into the catering van using skills he picked up “on the mean streets of Wisconsin” in order to take Casey into said van and, y’know, bone. Not much to add here, just that the power dynamic in this pairing bears watching: does Casey like Henry because he’s got the ambition of a fruit fly or because he used to be something more? We’ll table this for now because Lydia is high on cocaine.
Wait, what? Yes, Lydia’s plot is reduced to two kinda predictable planks this week: she can’t see without her glasses and she accidentally gets high in the bathroom when someone hands her a compact with drugs instead of blush in it. In the hands (and crazy haircut) or a lesser actor this could lead to some very dull work. Luckily, Megan Mullally is never, never lesser: we could watch her tweak her brains out and mistake Paul Scheer for Ed Harris (“he was so wonderful in Milk Money!”) forever. Plus she teaches us some important lessons: sometimes revenge backfires and you end up with a fish smell!
But the MVP of the week goes to the the undersung Ryan Hansen. His performance as Kyle was killing us all episode, whether he was confused about Othello (“you mean the board game?”), practicing yoga with his bladder, or mistaking Henry’s question about popping the lock on the van as an opportunity to breakdance. It’s not an easy thing playing a character cursed with fantastic good looks (We should know, amirite, guys? Guys?) but Hansen pulls it off week after week with sly aplomb. He even gets to deliver the coup-de-grace, pointing out that rather than seeing Munt’s success as a reason for suicide, Roman should be inspired: “A huge dork getting into a car full of hot chicks? If that’s not a sign of hope I don’t know what is.” Neither do we, Kyle. Neither do we.