Ooh, looks like I was wrong when I thought that Party Down manages to skirt the line between uncomfortable and highly watchable by creating connections among this crappy catering crew. This week’s episode shows that they’re just as funny when they’re throwing dodge balls at each other. Since it’s hard to take their conflict seriously–really, should Roman bother being jealous of Henry’s relationship with Casey, given that he has as much chance with her as he does with Dick Cheney?–we can just enjoy their patheticness. It makes us look better by comparison, right?
This week’s Veronica Mars alum was sneaking out of a hotel room as Roman was trying to track down Rick Fox (and, potentially, Casey, whom he must really think is getting around)–Kathleen Parker took over as Veronica’s journalism teacher after Joey Lauren Adams was fired and that America’s Next Top Model alum took a long bus ride off a short cliff. And she didn’t even get Rick Fox in the deal.
Ah, there you are. After last week’s misstep, Party Down bounces back with what might be their best episode yet, centered around the kind of spoiled-kid birthday party typically featured on MTV shows. Dressed in pink ties with Ts bedazzled on them, our catering crew is responsible for creating a fantasy world where, as Ron describes it, “every boy is a player and every girl is a bitch.” That’s not really a problem.
This week’s Veronica Mars alum, Joey Lauren Adams (“We’re burning daylight, people!”), is joined by Breckin Meyer as a successful actor who used to take classes with Henry and by a typically brilliant JK Simmons, an abrasive producer who is annoyed he’s spending six figures trying to buy one smile from his daughter. Party Down‘s bottom-dwelling ethos gets a workout here as Casey overrules Constance’s popularity advice to persuade the birthday girl to enjoy her loyal, geeky friends who have actually shown up to the disastrous party, leading to the genuine smile her father so desparately wants…only to have said birthday girl stalk off with the nasty popular kids when they deign to arrive. In similar fashion, Ron’s suggestion of a Soup Or Crackers in East LA is shot down just as surely as the geeky kids’ dreams, as is the proposal that either Henry (via his friend’s connections) or Kyle (via sleeping with the producer’s wife) play a vampire-hunting Abraham Lincoln in the producer’s new hit. It’s hard to imagine that any of our intrepid catering staff is going to escape the pink ties and “gay Secret Service” jackets when everything they strive toward backfires. Kyle can’t even bleach his teeth without creating disaster (Ryan Hansen shows previously untapped physical comedy skills while writhing in pain)–Comedy Central deals, primetime soaps, action scripts, Young Abraham Lincoln, and Soup Or Crackers franchises just aren’t going to happen. And thank goodness–if these people succeeded, who would we have to propose uncomfortably racist restaurant names or do awkward 80s dances at sixteen-year-olds’ parties? Long may they fail.
Maybe it’s because I’m still smarting from the fact that the Caprica pilot (the unrated version being released on DVD, anyway) doesn’t shy away from showing multiple topless women writhing and kissing, but Eric Stoltz keeps his wifebeater undershirt on during most of a sexual encounter. Or maybe I’m just a wuss. But this week’s Party Down, set at an “adult film awards” party, is a bridge too far for me, thanks. I quit at about the point a fringe market that may or may not actually be popular in another country was described in excruciating detail. I can’t even go with our typical food-related tag line for this post, because those were all filthy-but-not funny, too. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em and that’s your thing, I guess, but I’m passing, thanks. Better luck next week, I hope.
For the record, this week’s Veronica Mars alum was Jeffrey Vincent Parise, who played Dylan Gorman in “Hot Dogs”. From beating up Trina Echolls to hawking coke at the Sin Say Shun awards–that’s quite a career arc.
You know what they say about showing a gun in the first act–it had better make someone wet his pants in the third act.
Party Down can be very funny–Pancake Lady does in fact sound a little like a whore–but the combination of self-centered, icky people rich enough to afford to boss around catering staff with a catering staff that is very slightly more sympathetic almost entirely because they aren’t bright enough to have the money to boss around a catering staff can get tough to watch. It’s reminiscent of the British version of The Office in that respect, where the balance between the humor and the discomfort has to be almost perfectly calibrated to work. When that calibration is even a tiny bit off, playing “Spot the Veronica Mars Alums” is the thing that keeps me watching (this week: science teacher/egg-dropping competition facilitator Mr. Wu [Martin Yu] and the wonderful, glorious, possibly best reason to watch VM, bottom-feeding lawyer Cliff McCormack [Daran Norris]).
The most obvious strategy for trying to make a show palatable while maintaining the intentional rough edges is to build genuine affection among the main characters, and “Investors Dinner” does just that. As much contempt as Henry and Casey have for Ron and his sell-out paths they fear they will follow, they don’t hesitate for a second to spring into action to protect him from being bilked out of his Souper Cracker savings. Even more touching is Kyle choosing crazy Constance–she’s mooing at this point; that’s how crazy she is–over a connected jackass he would probably enjoy partying with and who might be able to get him a break, but who uses Constance and her unshakable belief that she’ll break back into acting for sport. We have to like these characters enough to show up week after week, and little connections like this make the fact that said characters are stealing Vicodin and literally wetting themselves more palatable.
While the pilot of Party Down was brimming with potential, this second episode started paying off that potential. The premise allows for a rich variety of settings to skewer, and they did a much better job taking apart young conservatives than suburbanites (even if neither Jason Dohring nor Alona Tal joined Enrico Colantoni in nakedness). This might mean that the structure of the show is similar from week to week, but if that similarity includes as high a giggles-to-minutes ratio as this ode to Cuban cigars, flagburning, and “Family Values” did, it will be a path well worth walking over and over again. If the show can continue to poke at not only the privileged (having the junior Republicans idolize Max Cleland, for the love of all that’s holy) but at the downtrodden leads (suggesting Henry make his non-alcoholic Manhattan a mix tape before taking its virginity), Party Down will rapidly supplant our other favorite workplace comedies.
Folks should probably be relieved that TV Bacon wasn’t around during the heyday of Veronica Mars. I still have the reams of e-mails where Susannah served as impromptu therapist to get me past the second season finale, and that responsibility probably would have fallen to all of you (imagine the reaction to Battlestar Galactica‘s recent mutiny arc, but about tragically underparented teenagers). We had some serious love for that show.
Can the premise and writing give them enough to do? This pilot goes over some pretty well-trodden ground, including too-serious absorption of a racial sensitivity seminar and masturbatory misunderstandings. However, it also has Ryan Hansen singing along to a beat provided by his cell phone, eyebrow shaving, lots of cheese, and a naked Enrico Colantoni. It can be tough to sell a show about failure (especially in these dire times), and it can be even tougher to sell something as inside-baseball as wanna-be writers’ and actors’ failues. But there is a ton of potential here (next week’s preview looks like they’re going deeper, darker, and funnier already), and Party Down‘s first gig was funny enough to have us ordering more shrimp cocktail.
Starz has lined up some serious talent for its new half-hour comedy Party Down. First of all, the series is created and exec produced by Rob Thomas, along with Paul Rudd and Veronica Mars vets John Enbom and Dan Etheridge.
And then there’s the cast, a veritable who’s who of Thomas’ and Rudd’s buddies, including Ken Marino (Veronica Mars, Reaper), Jane Lynch (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Role Models), Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up), Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars), Adam Scott (Tell Me You Love Me) and Lizzy Caplan (True Blood, Cloverfield).
Tell me you’re not a little bit interested now.
So what’s it about? An L.A. catering business staffed by Hollywood wannabes. Each week finds the hapless crew working a new event and getting tangled up with the guests and their absurd lives. The network has ordered ten episodes of the comedy, which is scheduled to air starting in March. I think I’m more excited about this than about Thomas’ Cupid remake.