Talk about a party. Starz’s fourth installment Party down generation remains at a Big Lebowski-inspired half-hour that’s not only one of the best episodes in the show’s history, but also one of the funniest stoner comedies since the blazing glory days of Half baked And Cheerful face. “Lebowski was definitely in my head,” the episode’s director — and Party down cast member – Ken Marino confirms to Yahoo Entertainment when comparing it to 1998’s Coen Brothers favorite. “That’s perfect.”
In “KSGY-95 Prizewinner’s Luau,” everyone’s favorite caterers are hired to provide drinks and hors d’oeuvres at a very special luau hosted by a local radio station that brings VIP guests to a Sting concert. Behind the scenes, Henry (Adam Scott) and his girlfriend Evie (Jennifer Garner) decide to throw their own party using some magic mushrooms, and the rest of the Party Down crew – minus Marino’s straightforward boss, Ron – joins in. in the fun.
But as the mushrooms make their appearance, their respective psyches threaten to be split in two. Soon chef Lucy (Zoë Chao) is making finger food out of wood pulp; aspiring influencer Sackson (Tyrel Jackson Williams) goes missing during a livestream of his very first trip; and Henry and Evie do like the Dude as they try to solve the mystery of where he’s gone. Meanwhile, the group’s sci-fi loving cynic Roman (Martin Starr) – whose paranoia streak is as great as his love for Philip K. Dick – discovers that the luau is Actually a police sting operation designed to entrap deadly fathers who skipped child support.
Obviously there’s a lot going on in this episode, but Marino and the cast really tie the room together by playing the drug humor big… but not at big. “The point of shooting something like this is just trying to be as real as possible,” the director explains. “Don’t make fun of it; be as specific as possible.”
Scott echoes Marino as he discusses how he approached playing a thoroughly stoned Henry. “It’s always a challenge when you have to play drunk or stoned because you don’t want it to be fake,” says de Parks and recreation fan favorite explains. “We’ve all seen the fake version of every other type of drunkenness. I’ve always found the more specific the better, so that’s where I usually go. And since we all did it, it was really fun just holding hands and jump off that cliff together.”
According to Party down showrunner, John Enbom, the details of “KSGY-95 Prizewinner’s Luau” changed quite a bit during the production of Season 3. “It originally started out as a completely different episode,” he reveals, adding that the abandoned version of the episode would have Featured Lizzy Caplan as Henry’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Casey Klein – the only main character from the first two seasons not to return in the third. (Caplan intended to be part of the revival, but had production conflicts with other shows that forced her to bow out. Then Garner was brought in to make her rom-com return as Henry’s new love interest.)
“Once we realized it wasn’t a Lizzie episode anymore, we had to rethink what we were doing,” continues Enbom. “The idea we had was that they’re in this beautiful place and it’s a boring job, so they’d try mushrooms. That’s where we started, and everything else was stuff we came up with [later].”
Like every episode of Party down – which always relied heavily on improvisation – the cast had a lot of leeway in deciding how their characters would behave during their respective journeys. “I was given a surprising amount of freedom,” says Williams, who was not a part of the show’s earlier seasons. “I was very excited about it because his experience is So intense and negative. Ken told me, ‘You can go as far as you want, and if we need to call it back, we’ll call it back.'”
And many Sackson outtakes made it to the cutting room floor, mostly due to time constraints. “During the livestream audio where Sackson is babbling incoherently, there are numerous shots of Ken saying, ‘I’ll leave the mic on, say whatever,'” the actor recalled. “It was so insanely stupid that some things came out of my mouth! But it was so much fun; I hope some of that will see the light of day.”
Chao – who also makes her Party down debuting this year – says Williams’ mushroom-amplified performance became the gold standard for the other cast members to live up to. “We shot my stuff after he shot his stuff, and Ken was like, ‘Guys must see Tyrel on ‘magic mushrooms,'” the actress says with a laugh. “And I thought, ‘S***, Tyrel knocks it out of the park! Now I have to do it too.'” Fortunately, she was able to come up with her own version of how Lucy’s trip would go.
“I was really stressed about joining the show in Season 3, and I didn’t want to mess it up,” she explains. “And I was doubly scared about this episode, because you’re figuring out a new character, and then you’re also figuring out what that character is like when he’s high. The thing that guided me all season was my props, so I was like, ‘The answers are right here!’ It’s nice to see Lucy not in an angry, resentful place, but in this blissful, excited creative space and just going for it.”
Another scene that didn’t make it to the finale is Roman’s reaction when he finds out his car has been stolen by one of the deadly fathers. Needless to say, he’s not so lucky. “When we filmed it I was like ‘My car is right here’, and then I pretended to get in and drive it, but it wasn’t there. I just walked around. That was a quality piece – where’s the blooper- reel?”
Of course, someone had to stay sober while taping the episode, and that responsibility fell on Marino and Enbom’s shoulders. “I spent a lot of time in my trailer while everyone else ran around and had a blast running through this park in Malibu,” says the showrunner. “I’d show up and they’d say, ‘We’re having a great time!'”
Marino, for his part, calls the episode a “haze,” but not because of any substances he absorbed while directing. “We went so fast and I was involved in every moment,” he recalls. As for how he stayed in character — and kept a straight face — while watching the rest of the cast go berserk, he indicates that he was channeling his inner Walter Sobchak. “When someone plays an altered version of themselves, it’s fun to just sit, watch and react. You can react differently based on what they give you.” That’s like his opinion, man.
Party down airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on Starz.