1 July 2010 | MovieAddict2016
The perfect show for our times
"Party Down" is pervasively bleak - and even depressing at times - but it is also riotously funny. In a sense, it's the perfect show for our troubled times - at the height of an economic recession, with all these disasters occurring over the past few years, never has apathy and pessimism seemed so natural. As such, the show really taps into a broken-down, bitter attitude, using the LA wasteland as its source of inspiration...but it remains strangely optimistic because of the relationships between its cast members, whose characters struggle with their awful catering job but, at the end of the day, stick by each other. There's a sense of family amongst these broken-down rejects, and that's why we love watching their weekly miseries.
Adam Scott (a seriously underrated actor) is the "straight man" for the show - he enters season one as Henry, a new employee of Party Down Catering. He's a failed actor out of Hollywood who has finally accepted that he's too old and past his prime to ever achieve his dreams of becoming a star, so he has resorted to bartending for the company. Scott is wonderful at playing apathetic, and gives some of the best facial expression reactions I've seen in comedy. I'm used to seeing him as the meaner or wackier characters in titles like "Step Brothers" or "Eastbound and Down," but here he plays a very empathetic and human character, and is really the heart of the show.
Lizzy Caplan is the other relatively normal character in the show. She plays Casey, a stand-up comic treading water. As the season progresses, she becomes romantically involved with Henry, who is essentially her (and our) anchor amidst all the other crazy and eccentric people they encounter.
Ron Donald (Ken Marino) is the manager for Party Down, but the show avoids giving us the clichéd mean boss: he is painfully nice and sincere, with a perfectly goofy Brendan Fraser-style haircut that looks like someone just evened off the top rather lazily. Toward the end of season one he has a bit of a relapse with liquor and by season two his hair has grown out and he's smoking pot and drinking all day and lamenting his failed love life.
The rest of the cast consists of geeky Roman (Martin Starr), an aspiring elitist sci-fi writer whose writing actually rather sucks; Kyle (Ryan Hansen), a vain pretty-boy with another ridiculous haircut; and Constance (Jane Lynch), who exited season one to join the cast of "Glee" and was replaced in S2 by Lydia, a character played by Megan Mullally, who, it must be said, actually did a pretty good job filling in the void.
News spread yesterday that "Party Down" was canceled after the season two finale because it barely nabbed 700,000 viewers. Starz mishandled this show from day one, from not securing actors' contracts correctly (Adam Scott, unsure of whether the show would be renewed months ago, joined "Parks and Recreation" instead, and Ryan Hansen was also rumored to be moving on) to not really advertising it very much -- and then relying solely on viewing numbers instead of Netflix streams or illegal downloads. (Because they were dumb enough to NOT provide legal downloads on iTunes, which probably would have worked really well for them.) I've heard a lot of positive word-of-mouth lately, with everyone I talk to streaming it on Netflix's website. I don't know a single person who even subscribes to Starz. I'd say 700k views for a season finale on a premium channel that no one watches is pretty good! But I'm actually kinda glad that they went out on a good note rather than running the show into the ground. They provided two very consistent seasons, and with Adam Scott's definite departure from the show, it really just wouldn't have been the same. Hopefully the show will pick up some more word-of-mouth and become a cult hit on DVD, and Starz will do some kind of special a couple years down the road (like Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant did with the British "Office") - then the full cast could return. Even though I'm glad the show didn't outstay its welcome, I liked these characters enough to be interested in where they'd be at in a few years.
"Party Down" is destined to be one of those titles you'll see on critics' "canceled-too-soon" lists over the next few years, right up there with "Arrested Development" and "Freaks and Geeks." It was a pleasure to watch every week, oddly reassuring in its pessimism, finding humour in the strengths of likable and empathetic characters, even when they were suffering through some pretty rough times. I feel like much truly great comedy finds the truths in common human weakness, causing us to laugh at misfortunes that we can relate to, and "Party Down" excelled at doing so.