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Somewhere between “The Office” and “30 Rock,” between the gritty Showtime comedies and the testosterone laced HBO comedies, somewhere in the middle of all of these critically acclaimed television shows is “Party Down,” a tiny comedy that has somehow remained under the radar. Ratings for the show are sub-par in comparison to other premium cable shows such as “Weeds” or “The United States of Tara,” and it doesn’t help that the show was picked up by Starz, a channel that is more known for airing various movies than television shows. However, “Party Down” and “Spartacus” have come to represent Starz’s one-two punch of comedy and drama, and with Season 2 premiering last night, it’s more important than ever that people learn about this show before it becomes yet another great show that’s tossed into the “Cancel” bin.
“Party Down” follows a catering group named Party Down, led by the pathetic yet motivated Ron Donald. During Season 1, he enjoyed his role as team leader and made it known. He runs a crew that consists of a number of screenwriters and actors who are using the catering job as a crutch while they attempt to break back into show business. There’s Roman, a deadpan, long-haired screenwriter who is a mix between Dwight Schrute from “The Office” and Frank from “30 Rock,” Kyle, a suave actor/musician/part-time model who plays in a “power-emo” band and is constantly arguing with Roman, and Casey, a cute young woman attempting to make her way into the comedy business. And then there’s Henry Pollard, a failed actor who is only known for a commercial he made years ago: “Are we having fun yet?!” Every time the line is said, it gets funnier.
The show has also gone through a few different actresses who are similar in personality: the older and somewhat dysfunctional woman. Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge played this role in Season 1 (Lynch played a woman named Constance that’s a mix between her guest stint on “Arrested Development” and her role in The 40 Year Old Virgin, while Coolidge played Bobbie St. Brown, a drug-addicted woman who replaces Constance after she leaves Party Down Catering) while Megan Mullaly has joined the cast in Season 2 as a goofy mother named Lydia.
“Party Down” succeeds by not over-doing the stunt casting or relying on sight gags for laughs. While shows such as “The Office” and “Weeds” are superb in their own right, they’ve all slowly changed from what made them great. Once shows that showed great wit and restraint in their writing, they’ve both turned to surreal and inexplicable story-telling devices that have destroyed the integrity they once had. “Party Down” is more like a tame version of “30 Rock.” In fact, while “30 Rock” is like the Dane Cook of television, constantly talking, spitting joke after joke and barely giving the audience a chance to soak in the punch line, “Party Down” is more like the Norm MacDonald: vastly under-rated, dry yet hilarious humor that sometimes doesn’t immediately make itself known until a second viewing.
The show also benefits from a great chemistry between the cast, particularly Henry Pollard (played by Adam Scott from Step Brothers) and Casey (Lizzy Caplan). These two follow the same type of relationship that Jim and Pam from “The Office” had, to some extent. They start off as friends, and while they’re physically and emotionally interested in one another, various things continue to foil their attempts to be together. Their relationship never feels like a “Ross and Rachel” type of situation, where the couple seems doomed to never be together, yet it has its fair share of tension. Without the chemistry, the show would fall flat on its face, and fortunately, the writers, consisting of Rob Thomas of Veronica Mars fame, John Enbom, Dan Etheridge and Paul Rudd (yes, that Paul Rudd), find a perfect blend of realism and goofiness to make the show enjoyable.
Season 2 finally premiered last night after nearly a year off air, and while it seems unlikely that the ratings will reach the heights of other premium cable shows, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Last night’s premiere was pretty funny, but some of the characters were lacking some of the qualities that made them so likable in the first place. It’s one thing when a comedy decides to show its serious side, but it’s another when there’s no balance between the two. Last night’s season premiere came close to feeling unbalanced but rebounded with a superb ending and some great acting by Martin Starr as Roman. One can only cross their fingers and hope that the show will pick up some more momentum as more episodes air. After all, “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” another Starz original TV series, started off with dismal ratings and quickly rebounded to pull in more ratings than some of Showtime’s shows.
Unfortunately, Adam Scott has already announced that he’s planning on leaving the show after Season 2, which leaves the show’s future in doubt. While each and every character on the show could easily be seen as a lead character, Henry is the center of the show, the guy who is the most normal in the bunch, and without him, there would be no tension between him and Casey or between any two characters for that matter. With nine episodes left this season, it’ll be interesting how the show decides to lead to his departure and if they can find a way to fill his role. For now, though, it’s best to just sit back and watch Party Down Catering find new ways to fail at their jobs.