We investigate our favorite episodes of our favorite TV shows. Be warned: these articles will contain spoilers!
At its core Party Down is about dreamers. I think that’s why I love the show so much. Sure, it is hilarious and cynical but it also has heart. My favorite episode of the series is from Season 2, Episode 5: Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday.
The episode deviates from Party Down’s typical structure. Normally the story focuses on the group trying to make it through a catering gig without the event ending in total disaster. This time, at guest star Steve Guttenberg’s insistence, the waiters become the party guests. Steve forgot to cancel his Birthday catering service and hates to waste food and since he is such a swell guy he invites the gang inside to have a party of their own. The atmosphere of this set up is more casual, allowing for longer and more developed character interactions. Instead of concentrating on workplace mishaps, they are given a chance to focus on each other.
Before I get into my favorite aspect of the episode I must give an honorable mention to the hot tub scene between Henry and Casey. The scene specifically reaps the benefits of the show’s change in structure. The couple’s will they or won’t they dynamic has never been the focus of the series but has been brewing since the pilot. Because of this restraint, Casey’s big move in the hot tub has a big dramatic payoff.
My favorite story in the episode belongs to Roman. His dream of being a writer seems the most real here. Up to this point his writing has been used to make him the butt of the group’s jokes. This episode sheds light on how terrifying it is to follow your dreams, and the stakes for Roman are high. When Steve discovers Roman’s rejected Sci-Fi script he insists on a group reading. The anxiety that overcomes Roman at this suggestion is palpable. Steve won’t take no for an answer as he strokes Roman’s hair in creepy encouragement commanding, “Be a lion, strong with your mane. ROAR.” The initial reading turns out to be a disaster. When Roman defends his script it comes more from a place of desperation than from his usual arrogance. We can see that the script means a lot to him. Steve determines that the missing element is heart. Steve asks and then answers the question, “Are science and art mutually exclusive? One word answer: Cocoon.” With this he sends Roman and his writing partner Kent Gerbels (like the rodent, not the Nazi) to inject the scene with more heart.
The second reading is much more successful. This time the cast fully commit to their rewritten roles. Casey threatens to “act [Henry’s] ass into next week,” and Henry retorts, “I could act you under the table with one feeling tied behind my back.” With this the cast launches into the feeling-injected rewrite with great passion. To be honest, the script is still pretty lousy, however, the joy that spreads across Roman’s face as he watches is beautiful and honest and just as palpable as the anxiety he experienced earlier. What the party at the Gute’s ultimately does is allow Roman a glimpse into what it would be like for his dream to be realized and the view is hopeful.