Given that Whiplash was my favorite film of 2014, I was delighted when I pressed play on “Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen” and was immediately reminded that J.K. Simmons basically plays his Whiplash character in this episode of Party Down. Like Terence Fletcher, Leonard Stiltskin is an abusive, foul-mouthed, rotten-to-the-core bastard in a position of incredible power. He’s a movie producer whose casual conversational speech consists mostly of four letter words. It’s kind of awesome to watch Simmons in this “Fletcher-lite” kind of role. In fact, he comes close to dominating the episode.
“Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen” is, for the most part, an unremarkable episode of Party Down. It isn’t an episode that looms large in my memory when I consider Party Down. It’s also not a particularly funny episode. However, it does have some very well-constructed storytelling and solid character work.
It’s centered around Taylor Stiltskin’s (Allison Scagliotti) sweet sixteen birthday party, which takes place on a yacht. Taylor’s parents are Leonard, the movie producer, and Diandra (Joey Lauren Adams), Leonard’s trophy wife with whom he has an open marriage.
The episode’s most impressive plotline involves Constance and Casey. This isn’t a character pairing that the show used very often, but one they could have done well to take advantage of on a more regular basis.
Upon realizing that Constance is a woman, Leonard sends her to speak to Taylor and to extricate her from the state room, where she is sulking. Taylor is depressed because most of her classmates didn’t come to her party due to the intricacies of high-school popularity politics. Only the “losers” showed up. So Constance heads into the state room, where she immediately becomes the embodiment of a bad role model. She does her best to reinforce Taylor’s belief that popularity is the goal for which she should be striving.
Enter Casey. She had heard through the grapevine that Constance had been sent to console Taylor, immediately realized how bad an idea that was, and decided to do some damage control. So, Casey busts into the state room and is immediately met with this rapid-fire speech from Constance:
“Hey, Casey! Welp, we got ourselves a situation here, my sister. So, Taylor’s dating Chad, who’s maybe number five on the class hotties list, but Chad’s been a bit of a douchebag lately. So Tristan, probably the top guy at school, he flirts with her at a party, they fool around. Tristan’s girlfriend finds out, tells Chad,”
Taylor, interjecting: “And now they boycotted my party.”
“And now there’s no one here but the losers.”
Later, when some teenage girl asks Constance if she’s at the right party, she replies with, “Yeah, what clique are you in?” So all around, Constance is not role-model material.
Casey tries her best to convince Constance, and then Taylor, that popularity is not the end-all-be-all, and that maybe Taylor really has more in common with the “losers” than the “cool kids.” (This leads to a hilarious argument as to whether Casey or Constance was more popular in high school.)
Eventually, Casey convinces Taylor to socialize with the guests that did show up to her party. Alas, her achievement is for naught because Taylor ditches the party as soon as Chad walks in with some popular kids and tempts Taylor away from the nerds.
Allison Scagliotti, who I don’t know from anything else, is really good here as the sullen, spoiled girl with a deep-down heart of gold, who’s been corrupted by money, status, and popularity. Jane Lynch in particular sells the hell out of her performance as Constance plays the role of the devil on Taylor’s shoulder.
Elsewhere, and in less interesting news, Kyle’s teeth are causing him pain as a result of a teeth-bleaching his agent persuaded him to get. So when the hostess, Diandra, propositions him, telling him that there’s a role in her husband’s new movie in it for him, he finds kissing her quite uncomfortable. Some fantastic physical comedy from Ryan Hansen here.
Among the party’s guests is Michael (Breckin Meyer), an old actor friend of Henry’s and the star of Leonard’s new film. He immediately decides that Henry would be perfect for one of the supporting parts in the film. Henry is, at first, hesitant. He has put his acting days behind him and doesn’t want to get his hopes up again. However, after some prodding from Michael and Casey, he gives in and agrees to have Michael introduce him to Leonard for the role. He does just what he wanted to avoid doing: gets his hopes up about a movie role. Leonard even intimates that he’d given Henry the position… until later on, when he’s in a bad mood, and takes it back. This reinforces Henry’s belief that he isn’t destined to achieve his dreams.
Meanwhile, Ron is asked to go look after Dro Grizzle, the rapper playing the event. Dro is played by Kevin Hart in a hilarious guest appearance. Unfortunately for Ron, who is an addict, the rapper and his associate are inhaling a Snoop-Dogg level amount of weed in their dressing room. Ron gets a contact high almost immediately upon entering the room.
This results in a few amazing moments for both Ken Marino and Kevin Hart. Ron pitches the rappers on Soup’r Crackers, as Ron is wont to do. (“Since you guys never heard of it, I’m wondering if there’s an opportunity to open up a franchise in South Central. You know, for guys like you who’ve never had all you can eat soup. I mean, I might be on the ground floor of a sensation here!”) Grizzle responds by asking Ron to imagine his grandma going into a place to buy soup and it’s called “Soup’r Angry Black Man.”
I tend to forget just how disgusting Roman is. This episode takes Roman’s grossness to a whole new level. He blatantly and unashamedly hits on a sixteen year old girl attending the party and then asks for her number. Later, when she is dancing with a boy her own age, he physically pushes her dancing partner aside and cuts in. Super disturbing. (Though even at peak perviness, Roman still gets funny lines. Later on, when Leonard tells him that no one cares what he thinks, Roman replies with: “People care what I think. I have a prestigious blog, sir.”)
All in all, a nice, solid episode of Party Down. Good stuff.
Party Down “Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen” Rating: 8.5/10