Party Down S3E4: WSGY-95 Prizewinner’s Luau

Getting all of your characters high is pretty low-hanging fruit, as comedy goes. But that’s only because, if it’s done well, it’s always funny. If it’s done very well, it also brings insight into the characters as their inhibitions fall away and they step outside of their regular headspace.

So after a brief moment establishing this week’s party — for radio contest winners who will later get to meet Sting — we waste no time getting everyone high off their gourds. Evie has plans to spend the day with Henry high on shrooms, despite it being a workday for him. (It’s increasingly difficult for the show to come up with reasons for Evie to show up at catering events, but she comes up with a cover story — that she’s a consultant, “analyzing paper product cost flow,” — that’s so dumb even Ron doesn’t buy it.)

And because it’s been years since Evie’s done this sort of thing and she has too much money, when she buys mushrooms, she gets, “enough for two blue whales.” So the whole gang eagerly dives in, apart from Ron, who’s oblivious apart from an exasperated, “the food is for the guests!”, and Roman, who’s too uptight to partake.

But everyone else is highly motivated. Kyle wants to take his mind off a string of failed auditions that has him questioning his career as an actor (and to make things worse, he got a phone message telling him his car warranty is expired). Sackson wants to get high so he can livestream it. Lucy wants to expand her mind so she can channel her artistic spirit into even more “challenging” recipes than her usual.

Which leads to Lucy challenging Roman on abandoning writing his sci-fi novel in favor of vlogging about sci-fi. She has no time for “bourgeois bullshit” like wanting to make money or have an audience. And with Roman on the defensive, she’s very quickly able to peer pressure him into trying some shrooms.

What results are the factory-standard classic drug reactions, although no less funny for their lack of originality. Sackson takes way too many mushrooms for his own good, and is barely aware of his surroundings beyond the views on his livestream. Evie takes it upon herself to babysit Sackson but no longer has the attention span to do so. Henry gets way too into the patterns on the Hawaiian shirts favored by nearly all of the middle-aged Sting fans.

Lucy takes her conceptual appetizers to a whole new level with what look like turds adorned with too many toothpicks to be easily picked up or eaten. She and Ron have a hilarious back and forth in which he has practical concerns about whether guests can actually eat it, and she’s only interested in whether their minds will be blown.  “What is it?” “Right?” “Is it even food?” “Exactly.”

And Roman gets paranoid. Naturally, getting high at a party where, “the watchword is chill,” only makes him even more tightly wound, and while Martin Starr plays that well, it seems a little obvious. Until Roman’s paranoia turns out to be justified, as he alone discovers the party is not what it seems, and the client (Scrubs’ Judy Reyes) and one of the guests (SNL alum Bobby Moynihan) aren’t who they appear to be.

To say more than that would spoil a very fun twist, but sadly, there isn’t a lot more to say about what ends up being a fun episode that simply does a good job hitting some well-worn notes. Naturally, everyone’s high sours in time, as Evie and Kyle both have a crisis of confidence in their careers (naturally Kyle’s is dumber), Lucy’s despondent that no one wants to eat her non-food, and Sackson is very quickly overwhelmed by the level of fame his livestream-on-shrooms has brought him. 

Henry finds himself reflecting on the years he spent failing as an actor, all because of a brief moment of success a dumb catchphrase brought him. And worse, he’s tempted to go back to that world of heartache, as Evie impulsively decides she’s done making lucrative franchise movies and wants to go back to making art. (While also offering Henry a role as Colonel Striker in said franchise movies). Will these be drug-induced promises that are quickly forgotten? Or will Evie follow through?

If Kyle is any indication, none of the crew’s profound mushroom-induced revelations will last. He spends the episode realizing that acting is something he used to do, not who he is, maaaaan. He’s made his peace with the end of his career and is ready to move on. Until he gets a callback from an audition, and immediately dives right back in. Which is the most important drug experience the episode captures accurately — hallucinogens often lead to profound moments. But those moments rarely last.

Stray hors d’oeuvres
• As the only member of the crew not on shrooms, Ron gets to be the straight man, for a change, which is fun to watch. That could be because Ken Marino directed the episode and didn’t want to give himself his usual physical comedy on top of that.

• In a nice bit of meta humor, someone backhandedly tells Roman he doesn’t look like an actor, and then quickly amends that to, “you could be a character actor, playing nerds or sad sacks.”

• “There are worse people… Stalin, Vlad the Impaler, John Krazinski” “Do you mean Ted Kaczynski?”