“Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh”
May 8th, 2009
Outside of some belated thoughts on the series’ pilot, I haven’t spent much time blogging Starz’s Party Down – things have been pretty busy during a majority of its run, and I ended up falling a bit behind before catching up a few weeks ago. Plus, the critics received the entire season ahead of time, so Alan Sepinwall (in particular) has been posting highly detailed reviews every week that, combined with the series’ remarkable consistency, have made my own desire to write about the show fairly minimal.
But “Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh” was just so damn genius that I had to put in my two cents about the ways in which it was emblematic of the best qualities of the season’s strongest new comedy (sorry, Better Off Ted). The show follows a pretty basic formula, taking its cast of characters and placing them into a new ridiculous setting each week. This, in and of itself, makes the series feel particular fresh: because it doesn’t follow the traditional sitcom model of focusing on a single place or particular atmosphere, the show is able to vary its storytelling and its focus from episode to episode, and the characters are able to have a broad range of experiences without the show feeling too gimmicky.
What really makes an episode like this one work, though, is the way in which setting and character interact. The setting was perhaps the series’ most outlandish, a Russian mafia “celebration” of a mobster’s acquital for murder, with a ridiculous guest performance by Steven Weber that still has me laughing. However, the reason the episode was so strong is how much this appealed to the side of these characters that they’re forced to hold back while working as cater waiters: by tapping into their desire to be celebrities, or their highly active imaginations, everyone but Ron were able to at least partially enter into that part of their lives that being a cater waiter was supposed to make impossible, and out of fear for his own life Ron has to let it happen.
There are very few comedies on television were the most fundamentally ridiculous of scenarios can actually say more about characters than something inherently dramatic, and Party Down can certainly enter that club with this gem.
One of the toughest things about any show is how you force characters to do things you want them to do. It’s a lot of problem solving, realistically, and John Enbom has created a scenario here that literally forces people’s hands. This is especially true for Henry, who reverts into beer commercial mode out of (realistic) fear for his life at the hands of these mobsters. Because the mafia were so nicely walking that line between legitimate threat (the knife to cut off Ron’s face, the murder accusation, the coda) and ridiculous buffoons (the hours spend watching “Dingleberries,” Idol Academy, Beer Commercials, etc.), the situation remained both effective in forcing, for example, keeping Ray from forcing everyone back to work and hilarious in the fantastic performances, in particular Steven Weber as the title murderer.
Weber was the one actor, in my eyes, who truly “survived” Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; yes, Nate Corddry still has a career ahead of him, but it was Weber who remained genuinely entertaining even as the show fundamentally fell apart. That said, nothing realistically prepared me for just how great this performance would be, his squinty right eye and his broken English coming together into a deadly combination. The moment where he asks Ula to marry him had me laughing so hard that my co-worker (it’s a slow afternoon, sue me) likely presumed I was insane; it wasn’t just the montone with which he did it, but that Enbom scripted him to say that he was going to say it, and then turn around and say it. It was just a brilliant little piece of comedy trapped within a ridiculously broad setting that kept up its end of the bargain throughout.
The episode also found a way to extend the story of Henry and Casey, which has been in great hands with Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan, and here found a rather great chapter. The episode begins with the drama, which remains funny thanks to the lunacy of Constance/Roman/Kyle, but the episode wasn’t about the drama – because the fake engagement played into the situation, and because both Henry and Casey weren’t going to turn down a chance to feel like celebrities, the wackiness felt shockingly normal. Their entire relationship has been one giant rom-com cliche (“keep it casual,” petty jealousy, etc.), but it has been worked so well into key storylines (except for last week’s Rick Fox moment, which was comparatively weak) that it’s fit in perfectly.
As for everyone else, their characters are just funny: Constance finding fans of Dingleberries was as great as anything Jane Lynch ever does on this show (I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it at that for now), Kyle finding fans let Ryan Hansen play the douchebag he plays so well (and all the time, as he discusses in this interview with Dan Fienberg over at HitFix), and Roman having to read the script brought out my two favourite qualities in the character. First and foremost, it brought out his high and mighty screenwriter in his rather hilarious reading of the awful script in front of him, but it also brought out that tendency he has for letting his imagination run wild in his paranoid theory about the script coming true in real life. When the coda hit, and it became clear that he actually was right (or was he?), it was just the icing on the cake.
There’s still two episodes left in the season, but right now the show is on a roll, and a second season looks likely – if you’re not yet watching this show (but still for some reason felt the need to read the last thousand words), then now is a great time to start – it’s available on NetFlix Watch Instantly, I’m pretty sure, and will come out on DVD sometime this fall most likely.
- A poster on Sepinwall’s blog pointed out the rather great foreshadowing of the final moment: we saw the would-be rat unable to tell the difference between Roman and Napolean Dynamite (and squinting a lot), and we saw the would-be enforcer with the knife threatening Ron. The pieces were all there.
- If I eventually get rich, and am going to be making some sort of big announcement, I want to have Jane Lynch in the audience: I will gladly pay her to react as she does as Constance to any sort of big event, whether it’s one of the awards in the show’s pilot, or this week’s wedding announcement. It kills me every single time. Fingers crossed that she finds room in her schedule to do both Season 2 of Party Down and her gig on FOX’s Glee, which previews after American Idol this upcoming Tuesday.