Jennifer Coolidge was only on Party Down for two episodes. When Jane Lynch left the show partway through the first season to film her star-making role on Glee, Coolidge stepped in as Constance’s equally daffy roommate Bobbie St. Brown. And, because she’s Jennifer Coolidge, she delivered some of the most memorable lines in the show’s very quotable history. In the season-one closer, “Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception,” Bobbie shows up to work high on mushrooms. She engages in all sorts of shenanigans, including accidentally making a tray of finger food into a swastika pattern, breaking free of the confines of her work area to ask the gay married couple about her own sex life, and claiming that she’s in a “purple tube of consciousness.” This episode imagines a scenario where the entire Party Down staff is in that same tube of consciousness — and it goes better than you might think.
The gang arrives at the site to cater a lūʻau sponsored by a radio station. Dozens of lucky middle-age guys have won the chance to hang at a lūʻau (weird, but okay) before heading out to a VIP experience at a Sting concert. As the episode unfolds, it’s revealed that the entire lūʻau is just a cover so cops can apprehend deadbeat dads with outstanding child-support payments. The episode plays with the very obvious wordplay of “Sting” and “the Police,” and it’s funny every time. (My favorite moment is when the guys get on the bus at the end, and one dude happily exclaims, “Maybe the Police will be there!”) It’s also pretty funny that the Party Down gang has chosen to take a communal trip on a day when cops surround them, but the crew keeps it together enough, so they don’t get caught.
As the episode opens, everyone arrives, and Henry is there with Evie in tow. It’s ridiculous that she keeps showing up at various events that don’t involve her, and the show takes a beat to address that. Evie says she can pretend to be a consultant “analyzing paper-product cost flow,” which sounds borderline plausible and also something that could only exist in a society as entrenched in capitalism as ours. However, when they try the line with Ron, he immediately shrugs it off and lets Evie stay anyway.
The rest of the crew is happy to have Evie tag along because she’s brought enough psilocybin mushrooms to share … with the entire city of Malibu. Seriously, we know that Evie is a successful movie producer, but where on earth did she get a bag of mushrooms that large?! It’s a fun sight gag that’s repeated moments later when we see Sackson holding a giant handful of mushrooms and asking if it’s enough for a first-time trip. (Henry’s response, “less than that,” is droll perfection.) Jennifer Garner’s bubbly, excited energy is infectious here, and it’s completely believable that she would be wholeheartedly accepted into the group as the festivities begin.
Most everyone is looking to expand their consciousness or unlock their creativity. Lucy is looking to play with some new recipes; Evie wants to contemplate some life changes; Kyle needs to shift his headspace; Sackson wants to livestream himself seeing the face of God. Roman, on the other hand, gets fully bullied into taking the trip. It’s understandable that he might be reluctant, given that he’s written not one but two screenplays about intelligent fungus. (Given the recent success of The Last of Us, perhaps Roman was ahead of his time!)
As the mushrooms start to take hold, Roman looks around suspiciously. Paranoia isn’t necessarily a side effect one might associate with psychedelics, but, hey, it’s Roman. He focuses on one particular guy in a windbreaker, which leads the undercover agents to loop him in on their mission. The ringleader of the sting, Detective Sacker, is played by the wonderful Judy Reyes, best known for her work as the no-nonsense nurse Carla Espinosa on Scrubs. Here, she dials up her flair for comedic intensity a few notches and intimidates Roman into complying with her wishes. Bobby Moynihan plays one of her right-hand men, and he’s perfectly cast as a bumbling, seedy cop who oozes contempt for both the caterers and the deadbeat attendees. A moment in which he openly calls Kyle a “Ken-doll dipshit” is fabulously mean-spirited but also kind of on the nose.
Kyle is out at the bar talking to one of the important marks, a guy named Jeff Daniels. No, not that Jeff Daniels, although that would have been cool. Deadbeat Jeff has allegedly abandoned four different families and owes big time, but he also has a pretty laid-back ethos about life. He’s helping out Kyle with his acting dilemma. After getting canceled, Kyle isn’t landing any roles, and he isn’t sure what to do. A combination of Jeff’s dirtbag zen and the transcendent effects from the mushrooms help Kyle to realize that acting isn’t who he is; it’s just what he does. This seems to comfort him. However, later in the episode, he finally gets a callback, and he’s back on the Hollywood sauce with a quickness.
Speaking of acting, Henry and Evie have a breakthrough that might just lead to Henry’s return to Tinseltown. While lamenting the trajectory of her career — which, by all accounts, is a very successful one — Evie realizes that she can use her pull in the extended universe for some good. She proposes that Henry take the role of Colonel Striker, a character prevalent throughout the franchise she runs. Sure, Henry wouldn’t be doing deep work, but he’d be acting, and, what’s more, he’d be earning a steady paycheck. Juicy roles have been dangled in front of Henry before — we all remember zombie-hunter Abe Lincoln (fuck you, Stiltskin!) — and he’s always missed out. Will Henry continue to be Charlie Brown with the football? Something tells me that he will.
Acting potential aside, Evie and Henry have a fantastic time giddily sprinting all over this lūʻau. Evie keeps reporting back to Henry at the bar, getting deeper and deeper into the trip each time. At first, she claims to have seen a very cool bush, and then her nature musings cause her to lose track of the super-high Sackson. Evie and Henry check in with Sackson’s livestream and are shocked when all they see is water. They race down to the shore and find Sackson curled up in a sandy embankment. He got freaked out by how many people were watching his livestream and tossed his phone into the sea. We glimpse his phone, showing that over 100,000 viewers are watching. Damn. Maybe seeing the face of God is something best done in private.
Back at the party, Roman gets the info on Jeff Daniels for the cops, but he gets distracted by a curious-looking appetizer that no one has touched. Of course, it’s a Lucy Special, and Ron has been trying to pawn them off on all the guests all day, to no avail. But Roman’s altered state of consciousness vibes with the spiky, vomit-colored blobs, and his mind finally can crack his opus. It makes total sense that Roman would come up with the original idea for his opus while bonkers high on edibles at Constance’s wedding and then complete it over a decade later while high on ’shrooms at yet another Party Down event. Everything comes full circle. Maybe Roman should get high more often?
The end of the episode sees Lucy and Roman connect over the appetizers: “It’s paper!” Also, Deadbeat Jeff Daniels has absconded with Roman’s certified, pre-owned car, and the cops do return it, but it’s seriously damaged. Is this karma because Roman parked in the handicapped spot? Probably!
• Ron isn’t super involved with the rest of the crew in this episode, but it’s probably because Ken Marino directed this episode. He did a great job, but we need Ron back in the fray! Also, no Constance or Lydia this week. Bring back our kooky ladies!
• Even just in the history of Party Down, Adam Scott has proven himself quite adept at playing chemically altered versions of Henry Pollard. In season one, he had a blissed-out moment with a joint in a bathroom and also a mid-credits sequence where he’s rolling on ecstasy. (Henry also almost always has a mild Percocet buzz.) Scott is always pitch-perfect when it comes to pretending to be high on a variety of different substances.
• As Henry slowly sinks into his trip, his comments devolve into a dark place just a bit more every time he serves up a Mai Tai. At first, he says the drink looks like “a Maui sunset,” then it switches to “a bird on fire.” Finally, he says it resembles a “worrisome urine sample.” It’s all very on-brand for Henry.
• Henry confusing “John Krasinski” for “Ted Kaczynski” is too good.
• When Henry asks one of the deadbeats to tend the bar for him, the guy is excited to “get out the good shit.” But, as established in the previous episode, there is no good shit. This is Party Down, after all.
• The “Yes Wee Can” branded porta-potties were a terrific sight gag.
• When assessing Roman’s potential as an actor, the cops say he could be a character actor who plays “nerds or sad sacks.” They also add that he could be the “guy who looks up before the comet hits.” Did this actually happen to Martin Starr in a movie? Hit me up in the comments if so.
• This week saw actor Ke Huy Quan win an Oscar after decades of struggling in the acting business. Quan’s success is a reminder that Hollywood just loves a comeback kid, so maybe there’s hope for both Kyle and Henry after all. Party Down has always been interested in when it’s time to quit on dreams — Henry is the most notable example — but Kyle, Roman, and even Ron haven’t ever given up, even when things were bleak. Is the show secretly advocating for perseverance?
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this recap referenced 1998’s The Big Lebowski with regards to Jeff Daniels, who was not in The Big Lebowski. In 1998, Jeff Daniels was in Pleasantville, if that somehow helps.
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