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TBTS Reviews: Party Down

June 3, 2010

Hansen, Caplan, Scott and Starr bicker.

If you are among those who among those who adores the Paul Rudd/Rob Thomas-created Starz series Party Down, congratulations. By my informal surveying, you are in an elite group of seven or eight people. I’m not saying that the show doesn’t have an audience — countless blog posts and articles available would speak to the contrary — but it seems that one never seems to actually meet anyone else who watches it. Currently, in fact, I’m not sure I know a single other person who is a regular viewer, and I’ve actively been asking around.

My point here is not to bemoan the fact that I don’t have anyone with whom to talk about Party Down; it’s simply that if my microcosm of the world is any gauge (and I tend to surround myself with folk who appreciate a good comedy), there are woefully fewer people watching this show than should be.

For those of you unfamiliar, Party Down is a single camera sitcom focusing on a group of L.A. caterers — a mixture of would-be screenwriters, actors and entrepreneurs. Each episode focuses solely on one event alone and the catering of said event (with episode titles detailing the subject, such as “Brandix Corporate Retreat,” “Willow Canyon Annual Homeowners Party” and “Nick DiCinto’s Orgy Night”), and all action takes place behind the scenes of the event at hand.

The cast, anchored by the able Adam Scott (currently of Parks & Recreation) sees former child actor Henry struggling to deal with his own disillusionment at the Hollywood dream even as he serves food and drinks to those living it. His co-workers, a great cast of current comic character actors, include vapid, handsome young Kyle (Ryan Hansen, of Veronica Mars), snarky writer Roman (Martin Starr, an Apatow regular),  self-helper Ron Donald (Ken Marino, formerly of The State) and increasingly successful comedienne Casey (Lizzy Caplan, of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, but don’t hold that against her). The last spot in the cast, occupied last season by the wonderful Jane Lynch, who has since left to pursue Glee, is in the second season occupied by Megan Mullally, as reliable a go-to scene stealer as exists.

Party Down isn’t as jokey as Arrested Development, nor is it as over-the-top as Curb Your Enthusiasm. Rather, each episode exists as a small, droll play focused around the goings-on among the staff as they interact with one another and, almost evitably, the partygoers themselves. A rotating crew of guest stars from J.K. Simmons and Rob Corddry to Steve Guttenberg and Ed Begley Jr. pop in and out for one-off episodes as the party guests, and a few small but very followable subplots run through the show from episode to episode. By and large, each new installment exists solely in the universe of the event being catered.

Truth be told, there’s probably nothing amazing or earth-shattering about Party Down. Its simplicity is very much party of its beauty. But for what it is, it’s remarkably solid. It’s always fun watching the deft cast unravel in new contexts each week. A recent episode directed by David Wain takes place at the “Not on Your Wife Opening Night,”  at a low-budget production in a community theater, and opens with a scene wherein Lizzy Caplan’s Casey declares “I fucking hate farce” — which is funny because farce is very much a factor of Party Down‘s DNA. From in-fighting among the staff to tiny miscommunications overflowing into the larger action, each episode is very Neil Simon-esque.

Creator Rob Thomas has recently said in interviews that Party Down has been engineered much like an independent film might be, wooing larger comic names to the staff by promising them it won’t be a problem if something better comes along, a mentality which largely led to the Jane Lynch-to-Megan Mullally switch. The loose, relaxed aesthetic of the show is part of its strength — it’s not difficult to like Party Down a great deal, and even though the show’s now in its second season, I’d highly recommend going back and beginning with the first. At ten episodes apiece, it’s not hard to get through season one in no time.

In fact, on a selfish level, I wish you would go watch the first and second seasons of Party Down, either on DVD or on Netflix streaming, because it would increase the show’s chances of being renewed for a third season (a renewal for the second season was tense there for a while). In some senses, while I applaud Starz’s branching out into original programming, it makes me sad to see Party Down‘s lukewarm audience response because it’s the kind of show which would have sailed on HBO or Showtime with a larger built-in audience. It’s a great move for Starz, but the smaller cable movie network may not yet have the reputation to carry a show like this to the popularity it deserves. Third season or no, Party Down should be watched. And you should be among those who are doing just that. It’s too good to fly this low under the radar.

Party Down is currently in its second season on the Starz network and can be watched instantly on Netflix Streaming.

  1. T. Stump permalink
    June 4, 2010 3:21 pm

    “Are WE having FUN yet?”


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