TV Throwback Review: Party Down (1×02) “California College Conservative Union Caucus”

Party Down (Starz)

Party Down (Starz)

In last week’s “Willow Canyon Homeowners Annual Party,” the perceived failure of Henry Pollard is contrasted with the perceived success of Gordon McSpadden. In “California College Conservative Union Caucus,” the innate laziness behind Henry’s decision to quit acting is examined in contrast with the can-do attitude of the young Conservatives.

The Party Down gang is catering a “Young Republicans” type of event, full of young men and women in suits, ties, and modest dresses. The guest of honor is supposed to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fact that Ron, Constance, and Roman find extremely exciting. Ron begs the Union’s secretary,  Jeffrey Ells (played by an uncharacteristically grounded Josh Gad) if, as team leader and a “future small business owner” he could shake the Governator’s hand, “just to say, you know…yeah.”

This is the episode in which both Constance and Roman become fully fleshed-out characters. Constance, a reactionary leftist with boundary issues, is on the lookout for injustice from the moment she steps foot in the Conservative Union Caucus. In one of my favorite Party Down bits, Constance enlists Kyle’s help in telling off a young conservative who she overheard telling a gay joke. Kyle approaches the young man and demands that he repeat the joke. He does, and Kyle self-righteously responds, “Yeah, well, I’m gay.” The conservative looks back at Kyle, surprised, and says, “Oh really? So am I!” Flummoxed, Kyle backs off with, “I’m…not really gay.”

Roman spends the episode being vile and offending everyone in his immediate vicinity. When he isn’t asking Conservative Union members if “their women” are wild in bed, he is trying desperately to get his screenplay, titled “Terabird,” into the hands of The Arnold by stashing it inside a briefcase of gifts that the young Conservatives intend to give to the former Governor.

What Roman doesn’t know is that he’s gotten barbeque sauce all over his manuscript, and that in putting his script in the suitcase, he rubbed the brown sauce all over a special American flag which was intended as a gift for Mr. Schwarzenegger. The flag, which had been through battle, was immaculately dirty and disheveled; and not supposed to be covered in condiment.

This causes Ron to go into a full-blown meltdown. He admonishes Roman (but not in any significant way), and then sticks the flag in a washing machine. Accidentally using bleach instead of detergent, Ron takes the color out of the flag. Panicking, Ron steals the American flag flying outside of the caucus hall, and enlists Henry’s help to make it seem disheveled and war-torn for Arnold. The scene ends with Ron standing in the parking lot, a burning American flag at his feet, becoming aware of the reproachful young Americans of the California College Conservative Union Caucus watching wide-eyed from the window.

Meanwhile, Casey is trying to decide between staying in LA in pursuit of a comedy career or moving to Vermont with her husband for his new job. She contemplates the idea of life in Vermont (a life that is pretty clearly not for her, with a husband similarly not for her). She carries around a flyer for “The Yucks,” the one Vermont-based improv troupe (they do “clean” comedy). Henry asks her if she wants his advice. She doesn’t.

A young conservative from Vermont assuages Casey’s fears, telling her that Vermont isn’t the least bit boring: “I lived there for eighteen years and I wasn’t bored a single day.” This conversation takes a turn when the young woman’s boyfriend realizes that she is intent on moving them to Vermont after their impending marriage. Their subsequent argument awakens Casey to the fact that she shouldn’t be basing her life decisions around a husband who would force her to uproot her life and move to Vermont–the same guy, remember, who came to her work in the pilot and pushed Henry into a pool.

Henry tends bar at the event. He observes the youngsters espousing their “hard work pays off” mantra and tells anybody who’ll listen that he is giving up. A couple of conservatives try and convince him not to, telling him that he can choose to be a victim or choose to achieve his goals . He is completely convinced, however, that giving up is the right option for him, that “quitting seemed like the only dignified thing to do.”

Quitting sure would have been more dignified for Ron, who gets caught burning an American flag as a result of his wrong-headed persistence. Quitting would have been more dignified for Roman, who, after all that work, manages to get his shitty script into the completely useless hands of an Arnold Schwarzenegger aide. But the young conservatives, and by extension the episode, do make a good point: Henry can never know how far he would have gone had he not given up.


“California College Conservative Union Caucus” Rating: 8.5/10


Soup’r Crackers Quote Corner

“That’s why I was never a conservative. Because you can’t win with these guys.” – Henry

“When I’m huge, I’m gonna really enjoy fucking with these perverts.” – Roman

Ron: “What are you going to think when you walk into a Soup’r Crackers and you see me shaking hands with Arnold Schwarzenegger?”
Henry: “The fuck am I doing in a Soup’r Crackers?”

Young conservative: “What if Reagan quit?”
Casey: “Quit acting? He did.”
Henry: “That’s actually where I got the idea.”

Eli is a 20-year-old film student living in Boston. He spends quite a bit of his free time consuming pop culture and media: movies, TV, podcasts, etc. He is an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker and will almost certainly “make it” one day. His favorite filmmakers are Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin McDonagh, and the Coen Brothers; his favorite movies are Punch Drunk Love, Amelie, Once, O Brother Where Art Thou, and In Bruges. A true contrarian, Eli believes that Christopher Nolan, Marvel, and small children are overrated.