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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Party Down – “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday”

Partying with The Gutte!”

It’s episodes like this that make me a little bit sad that Party Down may not make it to a third season (at least with the majority of its original cast intact).

Like Being John Malkovich, “Steve Gunttenberg’s Birthday” wouldn’t work if it was “[significantly more recognizable/famous/current actor]’s Birthday.” It has to be Steve Guttenberg or someone like him, someone who used to be really famous and now flits in and out of TV cameos playing variations on the perceived persona, in this case Guttenberg as kind of weird in an overly friendly way (Veronica Mars season 2, anyone?).

That said, the episode is an aberration in the show’s run as the guests are really the crew themselves and Guttenberg’s the one throwing the party. So it creates a new dynamic for the show, but not one that’s bad, just different. And it showcases how well these actors gel with one another.

With the lack of guests to interact with, the crew must essentially face their own situations through the impromptu get together at Guttenberg’s house (he forgets to cancel them for his birthday party, and being the creepily friendly guy he is, he invites them to stay and eat the catered food and drink his wine). It’s a nice variation on the show’s formula where normally the issues of the PD crew are peeking through their interactions with the various guests, here they must come to the forefront.

A few of these issues have actually beenĀ percolatingĀ all season. First is Kyle’s confidence. Already rattled by his movie going straight to the Asian DVD market, Kyle is equally at a loss when his attractive scene workshop Colette isn’t falling for his charms. Normally he’s able to skate by on advice from his co-workers (and Casey does try to help), but between Roman’s dweebish and cultured writing partner Kent (played by that guy from Superbad) and the Gutte’s sly but undeniable charisma, Kyle can’t win over Colette. It’s another failure for him this season. I can’t help but wonder how this will play out for him later this season.

Roman’s own issues as a screenwriter, something that the show has toyed with throughout last season and this season, hit a wall as he realizes that he should be writing for actors, as well as for himself. It’s a humbling experience, and his off-screen line, “Why didn’t I ever re-write anything?” is one of the best signs of growth for what’s been a fairly static character (not saying that’s a bad thing, because I love Roman to bits, but he’s been pretty much the same for the entire show).

But perhaps the biggest pushes forward involved Casey and Henry. Henry, having given up and acting, is given a chance to act in a safe place, with his friends and Roman’s harmless script. As a result, he seems to remember just how good he was and still is. Indeed, I could totally see Adam Scott selling that script on a TV show (okay, it was a little melodramatic, but it was essentially a table read, so go with me here) and making it click.

Adding to this story, and the vast amounts of wine probably helped this along, was Casey’s move on Henry in the hot tub. It’s a great moment, and Scott and Caplan really hit in this scene, between their obvious chemistry and then their having to deny it. It’s a really nice example of how this show can play smart, realistic characters beats and still manage to have Guttenberg joining Henry in the hot tub 2 seconds later be funny (“The jets feel great on your balls.”)

Casey and Henry’s “Can they/will they” isn’t as tedious since it’s not so front and center like it would be in so many other sitcoms (Community‘s done a nice job with his as well). So when Henry says that the break-up from last season is still something that’s tugging at him, it feels genuine and not forced. And Casey’s brief note is the kind of wonderful thing that shows how much she still cares, her decision to leave and do a cruise aside.

Sadly, Ron and Lydia kind of get lost in the shuffle here. Ron’s thing with the AA sponsors and the shrimp in the weird art thing wind up in a cul-de-sac. Ditto on Lydia inviting her neighbor over to the party. The show doesn’t seem able to fully integrate either of them into the overall arc of each episode, though Lydia is slowly getting there. It’s a medium-sized frustration because Ron’s disconnect worked last season due to being the boss, but now it feels a little less motivated, beyond him trying to get his life in order. Hopefully the haircut helps this.

The next 5 episodes will go by very quickly, and with most of the cast committed to other projects at this point, I suggest we savor each and every one.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Guttenberg’s constant soft caresses of Roman’s face and hair slayed me each time. It was so gentle and loving!
  • “I fuckin’ hate Steve Guttenberg.” was amazingly funny.
  • Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Life, I Learned From Sitcoms #54: Wine + Hot tub = bad good things.

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