Party Down S3E5: Proms Away

We haven’t seen much of Megan Mullaly’s aggressive stage mom Lydia since Episode 2, when she has a rare non-oblivious moment and wonders if she’s screwed up her now-adult daughter Escapade by pushing her too hard. So she contracts the gang to host the prom Escapade never had because she booked her an adult diaper commercial that same day.

Except, naturally, it’s also a promotional event for Escapade’s new movie, Proms Away, so everyone’s stressed out. Lydia’s worried Escapade is just pretending to have fun for the cameras, and it’s hard to tell whether her always-on daughter even knows the difference. (She makes a big show for the cameras of finally kissing the boy she didn’t get to go to the prom with in high school… but he’s there with his boyfriend.) And a rival talent agent shows up, who Lydia’s convinced is going to steal her daughter away as a client.

Ron’s also sweating, literally and metaphorically, as he learns that impossible-to-please “event planning legend” Sloan (A.P Bio’s Lyric Lewis) is in attendance. He’s desperate to impress her in the hopes that she could put Party Down on the map, and desperation is one thing Ron Donald has never been good at hiding. Last week, Ron played the straight man for a change, but Ken Marino dives right back into the kind of physical comedy he excels at, as stress-induced sweating and hives leave him looking “like a lobster being boiled while also having a heart attack.” 

The cause turns out to not be stress after all, but food poisoning, which he’s hellbent on powering through, even as his symptoms get very viscerally worse. Getting everyone high last week was low-hanging fruit that was nonetheless comedy gold, and that goes double for Ron’s uncontrollable farting this week. Gross-out humor so often comes across as puerile and lazy, but it works so well here because it’s so well grounded in the character. Marino does a masterful job of selling Ron’s determination to keep going even when his intestinal distress escalates to barely-concealed agony.

We also finally get more Jane Lynch, who was sidelined by Covid for the early episodes, but once Ron is resigned to spending the rest of the evening in the bathroom, Constance has to step up and run the show. That hippie-dippie Constance becomes a demanding control freak the minute she gets an ounce of responsibility is also terrific characterization — it’s a side of her we’ve never seen, and yet it manages to be perfectly in character. Of course there’s a tightly-wound hardass lurking behind her carefree live-for-today attitude. We’ve heard so many stories of drug trips or orgies that inevitably go south and end up with Constance threatening someone or breaking several laws, that it was only natural that side of her would come out on the job before too long.

Henry is sidelined for a change, as he’s waiting for Evie to show up as his prom date, even gelling his hair into a terrible 90s emo ‘do for nostalgia’s sake. The show is still scrambling for reasons for Evie to keep showing up at catering events instead of just dating Henry when he’s not at work, but Jennifer Garner’s winning enough that it’s hard to complain too much.

In the meantime, Henry just gets a running gag in which he keeps making martinis for Sloan, who takes a sip and then slowly spits it out with a look of distaste. We also get a nice side story for Roman, who hits it off with a fellow nerd who’s actually interested in his “hard sci fi” work-in-progress. He’s unused to being flirted with and seems shocked that someone actually made him feel something. Naturally, things don’t go the way he (or we) expect, but it’s nice to see Roman getting some character growth two weeks in a row.

And it’s nice to see Escapade in person again after hearing Lydia’s stories about raising what we could only assume was a show business monster. It turns out she’s a consummate pro who’s only having fun for the cameras… but also because she knows her mom is invested in her enjoying her fake prom and doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. Against all odds, Lydia raised a levelheaded, compassionate daughter in between adult diaper commercial auditions.

Stray hors d’oeuvres
• The full episode title is “Once Upon a Time Proms Away Prom-otional Event”, but we only have so much space on the front page of the site.

• 14-year-old Kaitlyn Dever played Escapade on the show’s original run, and it’s a shame (if understandable) that they couldn’t bring her back, but Liv Hewson (Yellowjackets, Santa Clarita Diet) does a terrific job here of making the character sympathetic, but also faintly ridiculous — she and Kyle go back and forth describing her entire evening in method acting terms. “My sense memory is exhausted!”

• With Mulally and Lynch finally getting a turn at center stage, we don’t get much time for this season’s new cast members, but they make the most of what they’ve got, as Sackson desperately tries to impress Escapade in a dance-off with Kyle, and Lucy acts nonplussed about Ron being poisoned by her sea urchin appetizeres (“They were left in a hot car. I asked my urchin guy to please not do that again.”)

• Next week’s already the last episode! Given how nearly everyone in the original cast’s careers have taken off in the 13-year hiatus between seasons, it’s a miracle they were able to get the cast together for six episodes. But it feels like not nearly enough time to spend with these characters again. Here’s hoping they can wrangle everyone’s schedules for a Season 4 sometime in the next 13 years.

• “On the first play of the game I threw up in my helmet and ran into a cheerleader pyramid.”

“I don’t know football, is that bad?”