Second Look: Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place Season 1, Episode 8 – “Two Guys, a Girl and a Party”

Two Guys, a Girl and a Party

Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place Season 1, Episode 9 – “Two Guys, a Girl and a Party”
Written by Rick Wiener
Directed by John Fortenberry
Aired April 29, 1998 on ABC

The pairing of “Two Guys, a Girl and a Recovery” with “Two Guys, a Girl and a Party” is an interesting turn for Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, after six episodes building up the legend-in-progress that is Michael Bergen. Where the young comedy’s seemingly settled on the identities of the horny, driven Sharon and the personally and professionally adrift Pete Dunberg, Berg’s feckless arrogance of early episodes is stripped back in “Recovery” and again in “Two Guys, a Girl and a Party”, in what’s a clear attempt to take what’s working about the character (mainly Ryan Reynolds’ charisma and Berg’s golden retriever energy) and repurpose it into something with a bit more pathos, a guy willing to obnoxiously fight for his friends – and in this episode, someone who finds their incredible ego melt into insecurity when faced with the possibility of rejection.

Although “Two Guys, a Girl and a Party” doesn’t exactly offer the most compelling setting to tell this story in – a fake 30th birthday party for Pete, organized by Berg to get the attention of his friend Bethany – it’s nonetheless an interesting experiment for the series, an attempt to broaden the show’s world a bit, and explore whether Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place might deign to be something more than just a slapstick hangout comedy.

Two Guys, a Girl and a Party

In particular, the second act of “Two Guys, a Girl and a Party” is a chore to sit through; outside of seeing a young Bill Burr and Timothy Dowling (writer of Role Models) cameo as two partying grad school frat boys, there’s not a lot the middle third of this episode offers, after a fairly entertaining setup that immediately offers the audience a different version of Berg, one whose confident facade gives way to some incredibly neurotic, desperate behavior as he convinces Sharon and Pete to help prepare for Pete’s birthday party (which is happening in the wrong month, and six years too early to be his 30th).

Once the party begins, however, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place steps out of its own continuity, when Melissa suddenly appears, still Pete’s girlfriend and in the process of getting absolutely shitfaced off jello shots. Suddenly, “a Party” becomes distracted by itself, accentuating each scene where Pete admonishes Berg’s sweaty, lame attempts to get Bethany’s romantic attention with her increasingly drunken antic; it’s the funniest part of the episode, for sure, but there’s a distinct lack of energy in these party scenes, offering up nothing but outdated cliches (Berg partying in a robe, Bill leading a cha-cha dance down the street when the cops arrive) and a lot of loud, empty jokes to fill time.

However, the shift from act two to act three is far more elegant; as the party dissipates, the boys admit to Sharon they knowingly neglected to tell her about Dollboy calling back for a date, clearing the table for Berg and Bethany to share a particularly awkward, uncomfortable scene. When Bethany finally confronts Berg about his various stories (which include mentioning he’s moving to France that very night, packing Pete’s clothes to bring with him), Berg’s facade completely falls apart, and it reveals another side to his character – one anyone who knew a Berg in their early 20’s saw a glimpse of, a person just desperate to find a connection with someone beyond a laugh.

Two Guys, a Girl and a Party

Which leads into my favorite part of the episode; Bethany rejecting Berg, allowing us to see the unflappable pre-med student caught on his heels for a moment. As he sits on the porch, rejected, Pete sits down to join him and remind him that “it’s good to get stomped on every once in awhile; it reminds us that we’re human.”

In that moment, one can almost hear Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place click into place; though this show’s offered up a compelling setting and an enjoyable cast of characters, things like Bill’s jokes and Mr. Bauer’s random movie homages (more on that in my Other Thoughts below) were clear signs the young comedy wasn’t exactly sure what it was doing, and was still finding its way towards a working formula – and more importantly, a meaningful pathos at the heart of its comedy. Pete’s offhand comment is exactly that; knowing the three-plus seasons of comedy to follow, that subtle moment is a strong one for the series, a definitive sign that the show was starting to find its voice, to move away from the noise of the pilot reaction, focus groups, network notes, and early creative jitters towards its true self – something so many comedies never get a chance to find, and an exciting moment proving the speed bumps in these early episodes have been in pursuit of meaning.

I do wish there was some more meat on the bone this episode; Pete and Sharon are mostly left as background noise in this episode, even though they’re actively present for most of the episode. It’s also not a particularly memorable ‘party’ episode – but thankfully, this is a moment where it appears the series is pulling itself away from its immature roots and into something perhaps a slight more refined (though comedically uncouth, as so many late 1990’s comedies were wont to be). And for that, we can celebrate, even if Berg, nor the audience, is really able to enjoy it in the moment – a step in the right direction is still a step, a glimmer of hope that proves a welcome bit of redemption for some of the freshman season’s many stumbling blocks.

Grade: C+

Other thoughts/observations:

  • I will admit… the Star Wars reference, where Bauer convinces two cops to walk away from questioning Pete, is a good one. Not nearly as creative as The Natural in “Two Guys, a Girl and a Softball Team” – but the shot of one cop turning to another is a nice nod. Remember when Star Wars references were kitschy and goofy, and not exhausting?
  • Yeah, Melissa’s sudden reappearance was just a reminder of how Jennifer Westfeldt’s energy just wasn’t fitting with the rest of the show’s writing – although her scream in the middle of the episode is fucking great.
  • There’s some great camera work in the third act, when Pete is getting questioned by the police and during Bethany and Berg’s exchange.
  • What are you afraid of? Berg – “Mostly clowns and mimes.”
  • “No, I mean I like you, like you. Or love you like you… or, I’d like to love you?”
  • Up next: Pete gets a girlfriend with a secret in “Two Guys, a Girl and a Chance Encounter”.

Want to share your thoughts? Join the conversation below!