Thursday, February 3, 2011

'Party Down' Complete Series (2009)

Starring Adam Scott, Ken Marino and Lizzy Caplan
Created by Rob Thomas

Party Down: Season 1Oh, Rob Thomas... First you left us hanging at the end of 'Veronica Mars', and then you went and created another great show that didn't stick around long enough, either!

"Party Down" centers on a team of caterers in Los Angeles working for a company called, well, Party Down.  The team is led by Ron Donald (Ken Marino), an over-eager under-achiever with big dreams to open a soup restaurant franchise.  The rest of the team is comprised of Kyle (Ryan Hansen), a pretty boy actor who can't catch his big break; Roman, a "hard sci-fi" writer who hasn't managed to sell any of his scripts; Constance (Jane Lynch), a former character actor who used to sleep around... a lot; and Casey (Lizzy Caplan), an aspiring comedienne.  At the outset of the show, the team is joined by Henry (Adam Scott), an actor who used to work for Party Down with Ron, but eventually managed to make something of his acting career and left.  But now that his career has tanked after he was typecast in a series of beer commercials, Henry finds himself down on his luck and takes a job at Party Down out of desperation.

The Party Down team don't particularly work well together, or even really like each other.  Henry finds himself attracted to Casey, but finds that she's actually married and may be moving to Vermont.  But when her marriage falls apart, the two strike up a relationship.  Unfortunately, Casey tells Henry she's more interested in something casual, even though he would like something more.  The ups and downs of their relationship form the emotional core of the show while the absurd hijinks rage on around them.  The crew will take jobs that will take them to one embarrassing fiasco after another, whether it's catering a porno awards after party, Ron's high school reunion, Steve Guttenberg's birthday or even an orgy.

The cast is uniformly able.  Ken Marino, who had a recurring role as slimy PI Vinnie Van Lowe on 'Veronica Mars,' leads the cast with a nervous eagerness.  He barrels through various scenes, trying so, so hard to be a responsible leader, only to have it fall apart right before his eyes.  And he's completely able to sell that defeat, eliciting laughs.  But probably his funniest moment in the entire series comes at the end of his high school reunion, when he fails to hook up with a high school crush. 

Adam Scott gets a lot of funny moments, his sarcasm carrying most of his scenes.  Most key, he has great chemistry with Lizzy Caplan, which means that Henry's relationship with Casey works splendidly.  It's underwritten, you won't find any grand exclamations of love here, and for the most part their interactions are a bit nervous and awkward, but it's all designed that way and it's quite fun and charming.

The rest of the cast all get lots of great incidental storylines.  Ryan Hansen (another castmember from "Veronica Mars") gets lots of laughs as pretty-boy Kyle, constantly on the lookout for sex or networking... or both.  Jane Lynch sticks around for much of the first season before leaving the show for Fox's tween uber-hit "Glee," and her character is riotous as well.  Afterward, she's replaced at first by Jennifer Coolidge (y'know, "Stifler's Mom") for a couple episodes before Megan Mulally joins the cast permanently as Lydia.

Season Two upends things a bit, flashing forward nine months from season one.  Casey has broken Henry's heart, Ron has gone on to manage his Soup'R'Crackers franchise.  Henry has become team leader, and seems to be managing it quite well.  He's also dating Uda (Kristen Bell!), manager of Valhalla, a rival catering team.  Though the show was canceled, the finale ends with a certain feeling of hopeful finality.  The characters all seem to have a shot at achieving the greatness they desire, and even though there's no conclusive resolution to it, you're left with an "everything will be alright" kind of feeling.  It's unfortunate that the show didn't get a third season, but what we do get are two incredibly high quality seasons, with nary a stinker in the bunch.  This show is hilarious.

It's also loaded with tons of guest stars and cameo appearances by the likes of Enrico Colantoni, Kristen Bell, Steve Guttenberg, JK Simmons, Joey Lauren Adams, Ed Begley Jr., Breckin Meyer, Rick Fox, Steven Weber, George Takei, Thomas Lennon, and McLovin himself Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  It's a non-stop cavalcade of ridiculousness, and everyone's clearly having a ton of fun.

So congrats, Rob Thomas - you hooked me again.  But damn it, can you make something that sticks around for a little while longer?

See Also
Veronica Mars: Season 1
Veronica Mars: Season 2
Veronica Mars: Season 3