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Party Down Recap: No Picnic

After sixteen catered events — ranging from Sweet Sixteens to hot-tub parties at Steve Guttenberg’s house — we’ve had plenty of time to get used to seeing our pink-tied underachievers mocked and shown up by their richer, more famous, Police Academy–starring clients. This week, the (picnic) tables are turned as Henry and Co. get to kick back and relax at the Party Down company picnic. The only problem? The event is catered. By the black-clad, bluetooth-bound fascists of Valhalla Catering, run by Henry’s teutonic girlfriend, Uda Bengt (Kristen Bell). Kickball, horseshoes-to-the-back, and a 4-year-old’s drawing of something that is definitely not Henry’s arm ensue!

Yes, it’s a bit of a shock seeing the crew out of their familiar white-shirts but their day-off fashion choices seem smartly in character: Henry in shorts pitched somewhere between hipster and nerd; Casey in a “are we having fun yet?” party dress; Kyle kitted out like a mannequin at Wet Seal for Men; Roman not caring; Lydia in a vest; Ron, a go-getter once again, in a suit. Of course, the latter isn’t for fashion, it’s to impress new company boss Bolus Lugozshe (the names on this show!), played by another recruit from the Christopher Guest Amusement Factory, Michael Hitchcock. You see, it seems poor Alan Duk has been sent away to Greendale Community College prison for “welfare fraud,” leaving a power vacuum at the top. A vacuum that Ron hopes to fill with his inexplicably bumpy back. Call us traditionalists, but we think Ron works better as a striving simpleton than as the sweaty burnout he was at the beginning of the season. Of course, he’s also successful when he’s taking an errantly tossed horseshoe to the shoulder.

Segue! The tosser of said horseshoe turns out to be Danielle Logozshe, daughter of Boris, and, apparently, Ron’s equally sweet and clueless soul mate! Also: She’s trying to quit smoking pot but is currently super high! The two cook up a plan to get Ron the job at her father’s side but mostly do wacky things like drop cell phones in blenders and reveal that they are engaged. Well, Danielle is. Poor Ron!

But lucky us! Because the jokes and character beats are generously spread around equally among the characters this week, making this the strongest episode thus far in a very strong season. Roman and Kyle are united in their hatred of Valhalla, generously advising their rivals that “when we handle the food we don’t use our vaginas.” Too bad the muscle-bound baddies (replete with names like “Bracken” and “Kato”) get the upper hand in everything else, from a “cater-off” (Henry: “Oh, so on your day off you turn your shitty job into a contest?”) to looks (just don’t tell Kyle). The only person doing any winning at all this week is Lydia, who, after suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous watermelon rejection by her bratty daughter Escapade, toughens up: First she threatens Kyle (who has been advising Escapade on how to dress, where to go, and how she shouldn’t tell the doormen at Bar Marmont that she’s only 14) via the only thing that matters to him (his clothes), then she gets Escapade a gig singing the National Anthem at a kickball game which, naturally, leads to a commercial for a shoe store. Success!

But the real action is, as always, with Henry and Casey. The two, intimate again after the backstage shenanigans at the Lyre of Orpheus, seem to be ready to take the next step. Except once again Henry is caught between rolling the dice (hint: Casey is the dice!) and some kind of risk-free security. The latter is embodied by the super-intense Kristen Bell, who really seems to be having the time of her life being generally cold and hostile and barking things like “Kale, what is it about more weiners that you do not understand?” into her earpiece. Uda, in her steely, cartoony way, does seem to care about Henry — her son even drew a picture of him with a giant boner! — and so she considers taking the Party Down job that Ron so covets with the goal of bringing her and Henry closer together. Oh, also to Bismarck. That’s where the job is?

Despite (or because of?) his little shorts, Henry’s trademark apathy starts to seem a little ridiculous this episode. Especially in the face of Casey’s transformation from snarky punchline machine to trash-talking, hot dog contest cheating, three-legged race winning VICTORY MACHINE. You guys, Lizzy Caplan so nails this episode: From the look on her face when she discovers that there’s an actual trophy awarded for whoever racks up the most points at the picnic’s various events to the endless abuse of former champion Garland Greenbush (“Seriously, what kind of name is that? Are you an unemployed wizard or something?”), she is basically transformed into a foxy D.J. Khaled.

Everything comes to a head in a Valhalla versus Party Down kickball match that goes about as well as you’d imagine: Lydia doesn’t know what to do with the ball, Ron gets nailed in the bait ‘n’ tackle, and Casey’s plan to recruit the defeated Garland as a ringer backfires when he yaks and collapses a few feet from home plate. Poor Party Down: They can’t even be winners at their own party. But maybe there’s hope yet: Henry does break up with Uda (even though she kinda does it for him) leaving him open to the possibility of actual risk (and, y’know, actual reward) with Casey. Just don’t tell him about the whole D.J. Khaled thing, okay? And make sure he never, ever challenges her to a game of HORSE.

Photo: Courtesy of Starz