In 2009, Party down felt like lightning in a bottle: an ensemble comedy starring some of the industry’s heaviest hits, created by Veronica Mars the brilliant Rob Thomas (no, not that Rob Thomas), alongside John Enbom, Dan Etheridge and Paul Rudd (yes, that Paul Rudd). The show, which aired for two seasons on Starz, told the story of a group of Los Angeles waiters, up-and-coming, embittered creative types who struggle to make ends meet in a city that hates them. you had before-Parks and Recreation Adam Scott, from post-Mean girls Lizzy Caplan with pre-silicon Valley Martin Starr and post-Veronica Mars Ryan Hansen, not to mention pre-Joy Jane Lynch and the Eternal Genius (and former member State) Ken Marino.
Party down he gained a devoted cult following but ended his run prematurely as his talent was scooped up elsewhere. I remember it being a brilliant discovery in the early days of streaming: my college roommates and I had never seen a sitcom that was so true to our reference silly sense of humor. That helped too Party down it wasn’t very plot driven – just like in the old days of sitcoms, it was mostly about the atmosphere and the workplace, each episode focusing on a different event. Rarely, if ever, have we seen the Party Down crew out of work denying their existence outside of their menial jobs. This is a worry for many in the service industry: often demoted and often underpaid, these workers fear that their customers – their rude, crazy, demanding customers – will never see them as anything more. Party downThe torn group of caterers were delusional in their own way, but they were never crazier than any of the people they worked for.
The show now returns for a limited six-episode run on Starz after years of fan-led acquisition. This was often a reaction to the work of Thomas, as Veronica Mars eventually turned into a fan-funded movie a few years after it first launched (and later Hulu’s own revival). In many ways, it seems like the perfect time for such a show Party down return; after all, who has been in the throes of the ugliest social talk or worse conditions in the last few years than food service workers? But new Party down episodes, perhaps to their detriment, just want to deal with the COVID of it all point. The first new episode is a prologue to the series, which takes place in March 2020 and is full of altruisms like “2020 will be my year”. If only they knew! But later episodes almost entirely slip over the pandemic.
Since we last saw them, Ron Marino has been expanding his Party Down catering service, with Roman (Starr) as one of the few remaining staff members in his tenure. Henry (Scott) is now a high school teacher, married to an off-screen woman who has off-screen children. He’s classically miserable, both because he’s given up on his acting dreams and because he’s always been like that. Casey, played by Caplan, doesn’t return in these new episodes, though Henry is never far off the mark: SNL cast member and tabloid, we always hear about her on the news. Lydia (Lynch) and Constance (Megan Mullally) are back. The former is newly married to a wealthy older man, while the latter is still focused on her daughter Escapade’s career. The season premiere is almost a standalone experience, a prologue so to speak as the gang reunites to celebrate Kyle (Hansen), who has just been cast as “Nitromancer” in some new big superhero blunder poised to go great.
There’s always something going wrong with A Party down party: Embittered by his impending fame, member of Kyle’s former band, Karma Rocket, reveals a video of Kyle singing the song “My Struggle”, which is rife with unintentional references to the Holocaust. It would be a fun and surprising revelation if only longtime fans didn’t remember that “My Fight” was already an essential part of the first run of the season. Kyle’s insistence that it’s all a coincidence – that the references to being “put on a train” and “assigned number” are to Hollywood – is funny, if not familiar. With Kyle working at Party Down again and Henry soon after, the gang goes back to their old catering gigs as if nothing had changed.
In fact, many new episodes Party down feel familiar, the show encourages you to play hits over a dozen years after they were played for the first time. The group hosts a quirky neo-conservative event in the third episode, “First Annual PI2A Symposium”, which harkens back to season one’s “California College Conservative Union Caucus”. In the fourth episode, “KSGY-95 Prizewinner’s Luau”, there is an extended mushroom tour that references the “Sin Say Shun Awards Afterparty” from the first season. The widespread familiarity of these new episodes is both a feature and a bug. at its best, Party down was spinning: The whole joke was that these people would never go anywhere or do anything, and their pursuit is something to mock. Their fears – not good enough, not hot enough, not competent enough to run Soup’r Crackers – have been exposed time and time again for the benefit of their customers only. It was dark, frustrating and relentlessly funny. But the new episodes are less focused on the monotony of work, too filled with a loosely connected plot and halfhearted attempt to poke fun at what Hollywood is like now. Things have changed, but neither have they; more of the same does not necessarily mean a harsher comment.
In part, that’s down to a handful of new characters introduced by the show: Sackson (Tyrel Jackson Williams) and Lucy (Zoë Chao) are recent employees of Party Down, the former a “content creator” and the latter a foodie cutting edge. While Williams is energetic and undeniably funny, Party down there isn’t much to say about being on TikTok being any other job than “Isn’t it crazy?” and “Aren’t the dances so stupid?” There is tacit acceptance that posting is a job for some, with little more investigation (including the oft-mentioned but rarely discussed fact that Roman is now apparently a YouTuber). Likewise, Lucy feels unequivocal and watched, a foodie looking for an audience to appreciate her disgusting, avant-garde cooking. In every episode, she comes up with a new disgusting treat, only to feel depressed when Ron scolds her for giving up cookies or whatever trite food is required of them.
Both Williams and Chao bring a playful energy to the group, and it’s good to see the show try to spice up its otherwise very white cast, but it’s clear the writers aren’t sure how to entangle them with a returning cast. Party down can’t decide if being a full-time content creator is a decent job, nor can it determine how a person with integrity in the food service industry could be a caterer (although there are plenty of TikTok celebrity personal chefs in L.A. who are well advise, according to my source). Jokes in Party down they were less about the nature of the work itself and more about the ambition that drives it, but it’s hard to understand why Sackson or Lucy ended up with this performance that they feel is below their abilities.
Another notable addition to the show is Evie (Jennifer Garner), a hot producer who takes an interest in Henry. Party down she doesn’t want Garner to take over the role of Caplan, but she’s tough on the cast. Garner is a game and a willing performer – I’m never mad when I see her – but it oddly fits the ever-sardonic Scott. It’s hard to know where their plot is going, having only seen the first five out of six episodes and knowing Party downoften has a sadistic tone, probably not good. But her inclusion is proof that the show is more focused on commenting on Hollywood, the industry’s cruel, accidental indifference, than it is on food service workers. Not to mention that the dynamic between Evie and Henry is largely, unfortunately, quite dull.
That the show jumps from March 2020 to late summer or early fall 2021 omits most of the hardest parts of the pandemic for employees, only noting that Ron went through it, suffering from COVID many times, his various side effects popping up when they were most comically effective (and in Marino’s hands, very much so). Party down has never been strictly Hollywood commentary on the service industry, but its comeback is so steeped in the injustice and injustice of an increasingly like Hollywood that it forgets an industry that has been completely disrupted in the last few years. That the new episodes are so similar to the old is not a disappointment as we are looking at a show of bitter catharsis but it tells us nothing about a flawed industry that has been completely shown for its wildness since the show first went off the air . If comedy generally “hit differently” in a post-pandemic world, why rely on such familiar beats?
In a crowded landscape of reboots and respawns, new Party down the episodes are neither the worst of the worst nor the best of the best. It’s still one of the best casts in ages, full of performers who haven’t lost their edge. Marino in particular is a welcome addition to the television landscape, one of the most adept, geeky and original comedy actors of a generation. Ron Donald is also a creation for the ages. I could watch him scream forever, and part of what I realized watching this last season is that he probably will. These new episodes will delight those who missed the show’s undeniably funny, no-nonsense patter. That was the secret Party down series and Party Down the company: This job was always meant to be a filler job for those characters who want to move on to something else. That these characters stuck in a revival, shiny and shiny, cheap and miserable, feels like something of an original Party down would be satisfied with a kebab. That the world around Party down seems as gloomy and merciless as a dozen years ago, it’s not their fault; The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result.