Friday, April 30, 2010

Party Down, "Precious Lights Pre-School Auction": Rumpled Stiltskin

A review of tonight's "Party Down" coming up just as soon as you know the difference between you and James Van Der Beek's parrot...
"You'll never work in this town again!" -Leonard Stiltskin
"I know." -Henry
Rob Thomas(*) has told the story many times of how he, John Enbom, Dan Etheridge and Paul Rudd pitched "Party Down" to HBO, only for the HBO execs at the time to decide that they had conflicting visions of what a Hollywood comedy should be. And so HBO ultimately gave us "Entourage" (about Hollywood insiders who get everything handed to them on a silver platter) and Thomas and company eventually found a home for "Party Down" (about Hollywood outsiders who struggle for everything and fail far more often than they succeed) at Starz. And an episode like "Precious Lights Pre-School Auction" - which namechecks "Entourage"(**) while featuring the return of JK Simmons as foul-mouthed movie mogul Leonard Stiltskin - is a reminder of why the outsiders' perspective is so much more fun.

(*) Rob, by the way, spent a year at the start of his career writing for "Dawson's Creek" and has taken opportunities in the past to have fun at the expense of The Beek, here with the phrase "James Van Der Beek's parrot."

(**) Love that Roman is a phony who will say "F--k 'Entourage'" while at the same time knowing and caring about the show enough to be indignant at Kyle's suggestion that Roman would be Turtle, when Roman clearly knows, "I'd be E, and you'd be Turtle."

So here we have the members of Party Down once again attending a function they'd never be allowed into as guests in a million years, though Casey comes closest by running into a comedian-turned-mom who's basically Casey a few years down the road. (***) Stiltskin and his wife are there to taunt them about how far all the characters haven't progressed in the last year: Henry never got to play Young Abe Lincoln, Kyle is still nowhere (and, unsurprisingly, Mrs. Stiltskin has chosen to forget their time together), Roman is at best proprietor of a a prestigious blog, etc.

(***) And in a meta touch, the character was played by Andrea Savage, who played Casey in the original homemade pilot shot in Thomas's backyard. Savage couldn't do the series because, appropriately enough for this character, she got pregnant.

Kyle's still trying, and still believes in himself enough as an actor to enjoy gaming Roman, while Henry is slipping so deeply into his new manager job - with the Taco Bell view that accompanies it - that he tears into Ron with the kind of speech he'd have laughed at a year earlier. (He tries to play it off as acting, but you can see the self-loathing on his face afterward.) But they're all running in place, and Ron, with his disgusting 'pit stains and loss of his barely-legal girlfriend, is actually going backwards.

But for once we get a small victory, as Casey nails her audition for a small role in a Judd Apatow movie(****), dissuading her from following Savage's path for at least a little while.

(****) Between Lizzy Caplan's early role on "Freaks and Geeks" and the amount of crossover between the Thomas and Apatow repertory companies, what other director could it be?

Structurally, "Precious Lights" didn't have the comic build that the best "Party Down" episodes do, but it still had plenty of great one-liners, whether it was Stiltskin explaining that he once drank ape sperm to get a game with Tiger Woods, or Roman's line about The Beek's parrot, or Casey lamenting all her bad auditions, including the time she was told she was "'too Jew-y'... and I was reading for 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'" And the tip jar gag was a nice role reversal from the episode last year where team leader Ron insisted on putting out the tip jar over everyone's objections, only for the partygoers to cheap out on them.

What did everybody else think?


Paul Hanlin Jr said...

I feel like we're climbing a mountain here, only without the Sisyphus drama. This was better than the opener, and for the second week in a row, I didn't think Mullally wasn't the weak link. She did have one of the 3 best lines of the night mistaking Ron's girlfriend for his daughter. :)

It's criminal that this show only netted 126,000 viewers for last week's episode. In an ideal world, this show would get 50 times that amount of eyeballs watching it. It was like seeing the UConn women's basketball team out there; everybody pulled their weight and more.

dez said...

I loved the "'Trading Places' starring Dan Akroyd and Eddie Money" line. Also, everything to do with Stiltskin was golden.

This show is perfect.

Anonymous said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the episode this week. Between this show and community, solid amount of entourage bashing going on.

Wonder if the plot of this season is that the crew finally makes it big in hollywood, it bigger than they are now. Granted, i just want Henry to go meta on all of us and say that he got a part on an NBC show with Amy Poehler and he has to leave the party down team

D4P said...

Leonard is hilarious, but most of the rest of the episode felt flat. It still doesn't "feel" like the first season yet.

Geoige said...

"Ron certainly sounds like a world class lover."

Another really good episode, they still haven't reached the darkly comic heights of Sin-Say-Shun or Ron's High School reunion but Party Down is in the highest echelons of TV comedy.

The Roman/Kyle dynamic continues to reap dividends, even if the X-Men comic book plot didn't quite do it for men, but with all these great roles Kyle is supposedly getting shouldn't he be leaving the show sometime soon, I don't know what Ryan Hansen's plans are but I wouldn't be surprised if he left Party Down, the same goes with Casey and her Apatow film.

Why is Henry on Vicodin, again?

It looked like Ken Marino had a lot of fun playing the anti-Ron and that fake sexual climax (to the episode) was great, all the sweeter for his girlfriend leaving upon hearing the whole thing. Having seen what Henry had to put up with I was laughing hysterically at Ron's misfortune.

Henry never slacked as actively as Ron was trying to, I don't think, despite the occasional joint and his and Casey's brief relationship, so I don't think it would be hypocritical to see Ron get his comeuppance.

J.K. Simmons wasn't as awe-inspiring as at Taylor's Sweet Sixteen where he truly reveled in all his foul-mouthed glory, but it was a funny appearance and the writers worked him into proceedings in a logical, realistic way. His best moment came when he said Tom Hanks had been mad at him since casting him in Turner and Hooch, I still think of Scrubs' medical crime fighting duo Turner and (Crazy) Hooch before Hanks and his dog, though.

Channing Tatum as Abraham Lincoln in an Edgar Allan Poe-based film sounds awesomely bad. I hope the writers create more hilarious off-screen films such as this, they work wonderfully, like the murals on P&R.

I think Mullally has been a good addition, but I think they should have just kept Jennifer Coolidge. Escapade as a name continues to provide laughs, and Lydia and Ron certainly played well together but she hasn't been fully integrated yet, then again they group has sort siphoned off into comedy factions; Roman/Kyle, Ron/Henry or Ron/Lydia, Henry/Casey and then just hapless Henry on his own, the ensemble certainly isn't mixing as much as it did last year, with Henry managing there isn't that "glue" bringing them together.

Finally, that scene with Henry, Roman and Mrs. Doyle was quite hilarious, but it leads me to believe that Henry doesn't mind Roman as much as the rest.

Q Ball said...

I thought last week's episode was a bit funnier, but I overall enjoyed this one more. I wouldn't be too worried about the minuscule ratings because a lot of people have been watching online at netflix (I know I have).

katie71483 said...

I love this show! While this episode wasn't quite at the level of "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh", it was still hilarious.

I'm so glad Starz streams this on Netflix!

Alan, was that Cindy Williams as the principal of the school? I checked IMDB but it wasn't listed. If it wasn't her, it sure reminded me a lot of her...

dez said...

^If you're talking about Mrs. Doyle, that wasn't Cindy Williams. I don't recall the actress' name off-hand, though.

WhatTheFDidIDo said...

My favorite part was the exchange between Roman and JK Simmons character.

"Oh, hey Stiltskin. Your Edgar Allan Poe movie sucked ass."

Starr's delivery of this line was perfect.

"Why don't you get me a little f*ckin' umbrella for my cocktail before they call you back to the set of The Big Bang Theory."

The shows not quite at clicking at the high level it was during the last 5 episodes of last season, but it's absolutely still hilarious.

belinda said...

Vitaly Chernobyl/Fiddlely Chenobile!

Tee hee! I totally cracked up within the first minute of the show.

JK Simmons just plays pissed off so well.

Unknown said...

I tuned into the existence of Party Down via checking out Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I now need to catch up (two Party Downs sitting on my DVR), but your excitement about it, Alan, is further indication that I need to watch!

Nicole said...

I love this show so much, and all of the actors on it. I also love that it's directed (about half the time anyway) by Fred Savage of Wonder Years fame. There's something about discovering the darkly hilarious side of Savage through his direction of this show and It's Always Sunny that makes me want to be his best friend.

I thought that this episode gelled a lot better than the premiere, and I'm anticipating a return to the sheer perfection of season one soon (not that I haven't loved the start of season two, but I think it's taking a bit of time to get its footing back).

One itty bitty nitpick about continuity - Ron expressed his bitterness about Henry's previous habit of stealing Ron's pot when Ron was Team Leader. Yet, Ron appeared largely anti-weed in the first season - are we just supposed to forget the epic "Just Say No" speech to Henry and Constance that concluded with the tragic story of Ron's friend, made footless by pot???

Anonymous said...

@ nicole, I think Ron was referring to the time he and Henry worked together (8 years before season 1?) before he sobered up and stopped doing drugs. In the "leg made footless by pot" scene, Henry even says Ron "made a bong out of cheese".

Anonymous said...

@katie: I don't know the name of the actress who played the principal or whatever she was, but I remember her from Roseanne. She appeared as a snobby new neighbor about whom the character Roseanne said, "You couldn't pull a needle out of her butt with a tow truck." It was good to see that actress playing to type again.

I seriously love this show, and also this blog and the quality and tone of the comments! I've been reading it for awhile, and will follow you to your new digs, Alan! I hope the comments stay as good as they are now.

Unknown said...

Yeah, a big part of Ron's arc in season 1 was that he was trying to live clean and sober, because he had formerly been a huge abuser of pot and alcohol. That's why it was so hard for him to be around Dro Grizzle on the club boat.

Anonymous said...

Love this show. My wife and I just decided last week to give it a try, and now we've watched all of Season 1 and the first two episodes of Season 2 (streaming from Netflix on our XBox 360). Like Roman, I've read Snow Crash probably about 10 times, and that great scene with him and Kyle was a reminder that I need to pick that book up again this summer...

Jason said...

I've been trying to turn others onto this show, I often show friends an episode or two when they stop by. Everyone loves it and no one has even heard of it.

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Doyle was played by Meagan Fay.