Party Down: ‘Sin Say Shun Awards Afterparty’ and the ethics of sex business

If you’ve not seen this series, it’s worth at least two watches; one for humor, one for pathos. Each episode is self-contained, titled after the event the party down crew is working, and spanning only the event. Characters don’t develop much between episodes; their changes, if any, are signified by the car they drive to the gig, a phone call they sneak in, or their new headshots. The most interesting potential for character growth came from the interplay between Kyle and Constance, which ended when Jane Lynch went to Glee. Le sigh.

Episodes riff on the film industry and general foibles, but each episode also touches on a more specific subgroup, usually  opulent. Uber-politicos, senior citizens, investment bankers, actors in more ways than one. This episode brilliantly deals with the porn industry and how it uses people who simply like sex, but also brutally takes advantage of peoples’ dreams to coerce them into performing acts they are uncomfortable with. It does this using one of the least sympathetic characters, to boot. If only all major dramas handled a topic as well as this half-hour comedy.

If you’ve not seen the previous four episodes, all you need to know is: Ron, the Party Down Catering team leader, has a dream to own a Soup ‘R Crackers. This episode’s event is the Sin Say Shun Awards Afterparty, where producers and porn stars who have been given awards for things like ‘best blow job’ come to mingle, catfight, drink, and have ‘pre sex,’ as Alan Duk calls it.

In the first couple minutes, Ron presents his business proposal – plastic portfolio folder and everything – to his boss, Alan, for at least the second time, and Alan again promises to back it . . . at some point in the future. Ron has worked eight years at a thankless job where his underlings roll their eyes at his earnest endeavors and don’t get paid enough to turn their cell phone ringers off. He has quit drinking soda and going out. All this to make money to own a Soup ‘R Crackers. 

It’s in this state the porn producer ogles him at a urinal; already a place of vulnerability. The producer leaves the bathroom after not washing his hands, and later finds Ron in the kitchen looking forlornly at his rejected business proposal. Introducing himself as Guy Stennislaus, the producer propositions Ron, claiming Ron’s ‘giant cock’ will bring Ron mid-five figures for a modicum of work. Guy simultaneously spews schlock about various markets and obscure awards, while trumpeting a company which grossed 6 million last year. Ron should realize those numbers aren’t compatible, but he’s desperate, broken, and willing to try anything (as episode 4 also revealed).

When Constance and Alan wander in to the kitchen, Guy whisks Ron away to a more private storeroom not because he wants to keep Ron from embarrassment – Guy’s entourage will file into the storeroom with cameras and advice – but because he needs to keep Ron isolated and dependent to make a decision he’s obviously not comfortable with. No commentary on the TV biz in general, move along, nothing to see.

If this isn't the absolute picture of sincerity . . .

As Ryan uses his charm and looks to feel up a couple actresses in a parellel scene, Guy cajoles, gently mocks, feigns sympathy, and croons “think of the soup restaurant . . . it is your dream,” to convince Ron to let Guy take pictures; all still with no money, no contract, nothing but the vague hope of seeing his hard work come to fruition.

Of course, even if Guy was even 10% on the level, Ron can’t succeed. It’s not in his nature. In a couple short physical comedy bits, Ron has performance anxiety and gets hit hard with the ‘best blowjob’ trophy. The physical smashing of his prodigious unit is just a representation of what Guy wanted to do to his soul.

Meanwhile, Casey, who has so far insisted her sexcapades with Henry remain a secret, has been given ecstasy by Shiny Shirt Producer (SSP). SSP was, apparently, hoping to watch Casey get freaky with some of the guests, as evidenced by the fact he charges Henry when Henry asks for more E. Though SSP’s motives are a little hazy to me – I was supposed to read the earlier scene as him hitting on Ron while too-aggressively pretending to be into chicks, right? – the point is, lots of hot people get fed lots of little pills so they can show off for other peoples’ enjoyment, even when in their daily lives they want no such thing.

None of this the show looking down upon people wanting to do drugs and get freaky, at a club or in their own bedrooms. But it is the show eviscerating predatory producers who capitalize on people needing money, a connection, and escapism from their soul-crushing ‘daily lives,’ especially when what they want in their daily lives is so far from what they’re actually getting.

Well played, props department. Well played.

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