‘Party Down’ Is Back in Business With Plenty of Hilarious Angst To Serve
Go to any major city, whether Los Angeles or New York, and you will surely meet many people like the characters of “Party Down.” This is not a reboot of the workplace comedy that first premiered in 2009 but a continuation. A third season of this ensemble feels like catching up with friends you haven’t seen in over a decade. For Starz to bring back the series is surprising only because the first incarnation was short-lived when it failed to find the right audience. The cancellation guillotine was dropped after only two seasons. Raunchy and full of hilarious despair, the show now adapts well to the 2020s. It helps that its original creators John Enbom, Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd are also back. In a world dominated by social media, it’s even more anxiety-inducing to chase after your Hollywood dreams.
As time has passed old favorites are still around, some with new roles in life. Henry Pollard (Adam Scott) has abandoned his acting dreams to become a real adult now in his 40s as a married English teacher. Lydia (Megan Mullally) manages the career of her daughter, Escapade (Liv Hewson). Constance (Jane Lynch), a wealthy widow, is now a philanthropist who gives to the arts. Kyle (Ryan Hansen) is the one who has broken through, landing the lead in an MCU-style superhero opus, “Nitromancer: Dimensions.” It is Ron (Ken Marino) who never left Party Down and is actually now plotting to be its owner. Also serving next to him remains Roman (Martin Starr), eternally bitter over a failed sci-fi writing career. But fate is cruel and his lawyer soon informs Ron that there’s a lien against Party Down. The only way to save the situation is by somehow scrounging $10,000 by a midnight deadline. The chase to secure the funds will lead to a domino effect that not only results in great hilarity, but will bring Henry inevitably back home to Party Down.
In the spirit of shows like “The Office,” this returning “Party Down” still works because it maintains it ensemble spirit. Each plot or gag is a gateway to being endlessly entertained by the cast. The theme may be catering, but this could be an insurance office, newspaper or fire department. Group settings leave lasting links and lingering feelings. There are also great new additions to the cast. Jennifer Garner is a natural as Evie, a big time producer who misses the indie scene and is behind “Nitromancer.” She provides some great plot angles, such as one involving a philandering Hollywood partner (James Marsden) and his disastrous surprise birthday party. There are also new members in the Party Down catering team. Lucy (Zoe Chao) has grand culinary ambitions while Sackson (Tyrel Jackson Williams) prefers to follow that all-too familiar path of seeking to be an influencer. He just doesn’t have the talent or savviness for it. These new characters are good enough to make us forget the absence of Lizzy Caplan.
The show’s edgier humor has no problems acclimating itself to the current environment, sometimes to satirically brilliant hilarity. Kyle’s movie dreams burn down when an old video surfaces of his band performing at Constance’s wedding, the problem is they belt a song titled “My Struggle,” which could be confused as an ode to Hitler’s infamous book. In one of the season’s great early episodes, the Party Down crew are hired to cater an event hosted by a clean-cut conservative group that later reveals itself to have suspiciously fascist characteristics. Nick Offerman has a fantastic role as a proto-fascist speaker invited to the event, who looks confused when organizers ask him to please stop praising Hitler in his speeches. Later when fascists and progressives fight outside the venue, even the liberal wing finds itself chanting, “Fuck free speech!” It’s the kind of satire we most definitely need right now.
Within these little adventures the characters get to flourish in their lovable and annoying quirks. When “Party Down” first premiered in 2009, it tapped into the prevailing mood of the Great Recession era. Cynicism was back in vogue and millennials were suddenly in total limbo about the future. Before terms like “gig economy” became the norm, there was the stereotype of the struggling aspiring artist. Now we have Henry having to return to Party Down, sparking a romance with Evie that is both cute but so true to the times. They use catering gigs to double as mini dates, witnessing together much of the ensuing madness. Garner brings a good, mature balance to Henry’s own, slightly lingering immaturity, which is the sort of thing that never truly leaves a born artist. Sackson compares follower sizes with others and naively falls for big promises. He’s that eternal L.A. seeker convinced success and money are just a few followers and clicks away.
The market is so oversaturated with reboots yet “Party Down” makes complete sense to come back. Its characters have grown and changed along with the rest of us. Some have stayed stuck in time, like many friends we surely know. Good ensembles capture a little something about all of us. Sackson’s enthusiasm contrasts with Roman’s bitter monologues. And countless Los Angelinos can relate to having that ex who is suddenly making it big, as happens to Henry, leaving us wondering how they had the right touch we lacked. “Party Down” is far from a downer, it’s in fact cathartically funny. The writing happily jabs at the MCU, inventing fake franchise hits with titles like “Guardians: Infinity Sticks.” The economy continues to wobble and we’re fed nothing but recycled factory product. This show still works because it gets us.
“Party Down” season three premieres Feb. 24 and airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.