Friday, May 15, 2009

Party Down, "James Rolf High School Twentieth Reunion": Do the Bluto

Spoilers for the penultimate episode of "Party Down" season one coming up just as soon as I accept a personal gift from Dennis Quaid's manager's lawyer...
"Be like a movie. You can score one for the losers." -Donnie
First things first: in case you missed it, today's column was another look at "Party Down," including news about the show being renewed, and a few quotes from Rob Thomas and showrunner John Enbom. I had hoped to have one or both of those interviews properly transcribed to run tonight, but time ran out on me, so look for a combination of both of those next week.

Whenever I do one of those columns where I check back in on a show I had reviewed earlier in the season, I try to make sure it's tied to an episode of the show that I feel exemplifies the opinion expressed in that column. (A few weeks ago, I was going to write a "Grey's Anatomy has gotten better" piece, but then I didn't like the episodes ABC made available for advance review, so I wrote something else.) I would have been happy running that column alongside last week's hilarious "Celebrate Rick Sargulesh," or next week's finale with Kristen Bell, but it goes just as well with the hilarious, albeit very painful, "James Rolf High School Twentieth Reunion," which is the Ron humiliation episode to end all Ron humiliation episodes.

The idea that Ron would think being a cater-waiter at his own reunion, even a "team leader," would impress all his old classmates was a brilliant example of something so sad it's funny (or vice versa), and Ken Marino did a great job throughout of portraying Ron's oblivious hopefulness. Ron is just as delusional as Constance(*) or Roman, though his dreams are much smaller. In his mind, he is an impressive leader of men now, and he does have a shot at Melinda, and everything's going to work out perfectly, just like the movie his old buddy Donnie suggests Ron's starring in. And while I think there have been far, far too many onscreen vomit jokes in the years since "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," I thought the one at the end here was hilarious, both because it was perfectly set up earlier with the reference to how Ron got the "Bluto" nickname and all of Ron's waiting for the right moment with Melinda, and because Ron was pleading for her to call 911 to save his life, even as he kept on puking.

(*) As mentioned in the column, Jane Lynch wasn't in this episode or the finale because she got cast in the "Glee" pilot -- which in turn may keep her from joining everybody else for "Party Down" season two. These episodes were both written with Constance present and at the last minute had to be rejiggered to feature Jennifer Coolidge (who played Jane Lynch's lover in "Best In Show") as Constance's longtime roommate, Bobbi St. Brown. Coolidge, as you would expect from someone of her background, fits right in, though she gets more to do next week. And Constance is written off, for now, anyway, as having gone away with Zoltan, the "Dingleberries"-loving gangster from last week.

This was also a great Casey episode, as she did everything in her power to keep Henry from quitting to move back in with his parents. Lizzy Caplan's delight at meeting Donnie and realizing that she had just found the perfect object lesson for Henry was very nicely-played.

More fine guest casting this episode, not just with Coolidge, but Joe Lo Truglio (one of Marino's old buddies from The State) perfectly cast as Donnie, Molly Parker as Melinda and Kyle Bornheimer (from "Worst Week") as popular Mark Defino. If this is the caliber of people they can get when they're just calling in favors for a show no one's even seen, I look forward to seeing who turns up next season now that word of mouth is spreading a little.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Yes, there have been many vomit jokes, but this one was like a running hose lying on the sidewalk. And I've never seen that. And I laughed until it hurt.

Justin said...

Who wants chowda?

Benjamin Standig said...

Fantastic episode. Everyone already mentioned the vomit scene, but the stall scene had me rolling as well. very enjoyable and Jennifer Coolidge would make a great replacement if Jane Lynch leaves.

Paul Hanlin Jr said...

Absolutely kickass tonight. This is Ken Marino's Emmy submission tape for best comedy actor in a comedy. He hit all the right notes, and this was a great showcase for him. If I endured what he did, with a rare chance for a happy ending for him, to find someone who loved him get faked out the way he did, I'd probably go off the deep end, too). But she got hers, didn't she, at the end? Projectile vomiting, this is a first-ballot hall of fame candidate. ;)

Loved the Casey-Henry dynamic even moreso; Caplan in particular has been a revelation to me, as I only saw her work in Cloverfield. She's as good as any TV comedienne out there. PD should be showered with multiple Emmy nominations next month. Everyone's pulling their weight and then some.

And if all THAT wasn't enough, there in the bullpen - one Kristen mudder-frakkin' Bell, like Brad Lidge in Game 5 of last year's World Series, ready to bring down the curtain on a great season. I believe this is one of the five best comedies on television today. And premium cable's best 30 minutes, period, head & shoulders over Entourage and CYE. PD is the anti-Entourage.

Well done, TREE.

David C said...

I'm absolutely loving every minute of this show, but I gotta say that after last weeks amazing Steven Weber episode, this one, while hilariously painful, never topped the surreal celebratory atmosphere of last weeks Russian mob episode.

That being said, this one was more grounded in what the show seems to be trying for (besides laughs, I mean). As much as I laugh at Ken Marino's pathetic character, this episode squeeked out a bunch of empathy for him.

It also played into a theme I really like the show dealing with. Every character doesn't seem to be a person, but rather a person attempting to live a certain image of him/herself (accept Henry, who doesn't know who he wants to be. He just knows who he doesn't want to be). Even Casey has crafted the image of a detached comedian (comedienne?), that she has trouble expressing what she wants to Henry in anything other than a passive aggressive way (at first, and even when she does ask him to stay, its after he nudged the heck out of her). Roman thinks he should be an a-hole screenwriter, so he acts like one.

This episode really hit on that theme with Melinda superficially attempting to create a moment that she thinks her reunion should have, then crassly attempting to RECREATE that moment after selling out the first one for a better (at the time) moment.

Henry may seem like the unhappiest, but that's only cause he's the only one lacking the delusion that keeps them from looking hard into the mirror and seeing the failures they have become.

Also, the puking was sooo silly!

I'm glad it got renewed.

Anonymous said...

That was horriflivic.

Jack said...

I totally enjoy this show but what about it's partner "Head Case?" It has been a little uneven but it seems to be pulling together nicely. Last week's episode (trapped in a convertible?? the look on her face with the fould language!!!) was hilarious!!

Visceralist said...

I'm gonna go out on a very strong, thick limb and say that this is the best tv comedy since "Arrested Development." I haven't laughed as hard as I laughed during the whole PUKE..."call an amublance!"...PUKE..."Call an ambulance" since I don't know when. We don't even have a word in the English language to describe the kind of hysterics this show has put me into. So glad this is on a premium channel too...and that it's renewed. The wait for the 2nd season of Party Down is gonna be worse than the wait for Lost's next season.

Oaktown Girl said...

Yes - so very, very painful to watch Ron be so completely oblivious on his way to setting himself up for such a heart wrenching fall. What an amazing tightrope this show walks between comedy and tragedy.

Jennifer Coolidge is a brilliant piece of casting here. She brings so much to the "crazy" table. I always love seeing Deadwood alums, and Molly Parker was excellent here. I wasn't even quite sure that was her at first because she transformed so wonderfully into the character.

I'm so glad this show (and Better Off Ted!) has been renewed...even if I don't have access to the Stars channel next year.

Ben said...

I suspect that Party Down will be a show hailed by the critics, loved by the fans, but criminally ignored by the awards committees.

Great first season, really looking forward to the obligatory Paul Rudd appearance next year.

Not Available said...

It's great seeing that people are starting to get into this show. It's a gem.

Anonymous said...

Hey, did anybody catch why Casey was so down, as she was sitting on the stairs after she convinced Henry to stay? Ron was looking for Molly Parker, running down the stairs - and Casey looked like she'd seen a ghost. This was AFTER she convinced Henry to stay.

Was she regretting her move, or was this just a shot that was shown out of order?

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

And I love the title: James "Rolf" High--how appropriate given what happens at the end. Great episode.

Oaktown Girl said...

Hey, did anybody catch why Casey was so down, as she was sitting on the stairs after she convinced Henry to stay?Chris, yes, I certainly noticed that. I was expecting some bad news or a strange plot twist. In any case, (and without re-watching it yet), I've come to the conclusion that it's entirely possible that she was not "down" or experiencing buyer's remorse, but was merely in a contemplative space - maybe thinking about her own life's path? In any case, maybe we'll find out next week what she was thinking, or if in fact it was just an editorial goof up. Or not.

Oaktown Girl said...

Well, so much for seeing if bypassing the "preview" function would alleviate the irritating technical glitch in this blog.

Alan Sepinwall said...

What technical glitch?

Maggie said...

I was a bit confused during this episode as I couldn't understand why living with his parents would matter that much for Henry (other making him feel pathetic), until I realized that his parents must not live in the LA area. Was that explained or did I miss it?

My favorite part of the episode was the constant "Go Cougars!" refrain. Yeah, 20 years ago it was just a common sports team nickname, but today, having a room full of 38 year old women shouting it is just priceless.

Anonymous said...

I didn't get that Casey moment either. I was expecting something else after that to explain it and the only thing I could think of was that maybe it was tied into the season finale somehow. Either that or maybe it was just Casey contemplating her own life. She seemed fine when she went back into the party and told the others Henry was staying.

Maggie, it wasn't explained Henry's parents didn't live in LA, but it seemed to be assumed based on the fact that it would cause him to leave.

Oaktown Girl said...

Alan - the glitch in the comments section, I mean. After putting a line or two of text in italics using html, you lose the paragraph break, and the quote simply gets smashed up against the new text. You can see it in my comment above where I quote commenter Chris in response to the question he asked.

Karl Ruben said...

@Oaktown Girl: Yep, happened to me too, over in the last HIMYM thread.

Mo Ryan said...

Roman is not delusional. He is a prestigious blogger! ha.

Given how Ron kind of irritates me sometimes, I was surprised at how thoroughly I enjoyed this episode. I genuinely felt bad when the jackhole reunion guy pointed out that they were all just laughing at him. That scene was so beautifully played by Ken M.

I kept expecting Ron to pull out Melinda's panties and show them to the reunion crowd or throw them at her, but he didn't. Amid all the humiliation and heartbreak, he stayed classy. Or he forgot he had them.

And the vomit scene? Oh lord. God. So sick and wrong but I laughed myself silly.

dez said...

I finally got around to watching this last night and agree with all above about its hilarity, especially the bathroom scene (I kept waiting for someone to come in and assume DRON was gay).

That mighty puddle of puuuuke was so big that "Melissa" (HA!) had to lift her feet so it wouldn't get on her. Poor Ron.

@Mo, I'm assuming Ron forgot he had them. Would be great to seem him coming to in the hospital and wondering where the hell the undies came from.