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Josh Reviews Party Down (Season One)!

Wow!  Add this series to the list of brilliant, cancelled-before-their-time TV shows!

I don’t think I even heard of Party Down during the two seasons it was on the air, on Starz, in 2009-10.  But every now and then, since it’s cancellation, I’d hear or read a mention of it, mostly in connection to being a prior great role of Adam Scott’s, who I’ve been so enjoying as Ben Dywer on the terrific Parks and Recreation.  A sale on Amazon lead me to buy the first season on DVD, and I was blown away!  I’m already almost finished with season two, and deep in mourning that there are no more episodes of this fantastic show!

The series focuses on Party Down, a fairly low-quality Hollywood catering company, staffed primarily by out-of-work actors and actresses.  The show is a true ensemble, but if I had to identify a lead character it would be Adam Scott as Henry.  Henry was once a struggling actor whose big break came on a commercial, saying the catch phrase “Are we having fun yet?”.  Sadly, that break-out role also destroyed his career, forever type-casting him as the “are we having fun yet?” guy.  His dreams pretty much crushed, Henry is fairly rudderless when we first meet him, having sworn off acting, but not sure what he should do with his life instead of that.

He’s hired to work with Party Down by an old friend, Ron, played by Ken Marino.  The two used to party together, back in the day, but Ron partied too hard and too long.  He’s sworn off all booze and drugs now, and he sees his job as Party Down team leader as a stepping-stone towards his dream of one day owning a Soup ‘R Crackers franchise.  While everyone else treats their gigs catering with Party Down with apathy or downright loathing, Ron takes things totally seriously, leading to a lot of (very funny) butting heads with his team of misfits.  Ron is so sincere, he’s pretty impossible not to love.

The only part of working for Party Down that is remotely appealing for Henry is the presence of Casey, played by Lizzy Caplan.  Although Casey is married when we first meet her in the pilot, the show wisely avoids any prolonged will-they-or-won’t-they Ross/Rachel tension by immediately getting the two together.  Casey is struggling mightily to succeed as a stand-up comic, and though she’s been pretty beaten down by rejection she sees right through Henry’s “I don’t care anymore” attitude.  Lizzy Caplan had a very small role in Freaks and Geeks, but I recognized her most from her role as Marlena in Cloverfield.  She’s absolutely dynamite here, tough and cynical but also secretly hopeful.

Rounding out the Party Down crew are Jane Lynch as Constance, Martin Starr as Roman, and Ryan Hansen as Kyle.  Each are equally brilliant.  The great Jane Lynch (who sadly left the series two episodes before the end of the first season, to join a small show called Glee) brings her usual manic energy to bear as the unceasingly optimistic Constance, whose every Hollywood story is more horrifying than the next (all the more so because she tells each tale with the same up-beat grin).  Martin Starr (my favorite actor from Freaks and Geeks, and that’s saying a lot — he played Bill) brings the cynicism as the struggling writer Roman, whose failure to ever sell a script hasn’t put a damper on his confidence that he’s the smartest person in the room at all times.  Roman’s opposite and nemesis is the blond, good-looking but incredibly dim Kyle, whose 100-watt smile makes him the only member of the Party Down crew who seems like he’ll ever have a chance of making it in Hollywood.

Each episode of the show takes place at a different event being catered by Party Down.  (One week they’re working “Taylor Stiltskin’s Sweet Sixteen,” the next week they’re at the “James Rold High School Twentieth Reunion.”)  It’s a brilliant conceit, as it turns each episode of the show into it’s own little mini-movie.  Complete, by the way, with an incredible array of guest-stars.  As if the main cast wasn’t amazing enough, it’s incredible getting to watch them bounce off a ridiculous array of guest-stars including Ed Begley, Jr., J. K. Simmons, Joey Lauren Adams, Rob Corddry, Steven Weber (giving the best performance of his career as the completely-unhinged uncertain-ethnicity mobster Ricky Sargulesh), George Takei, Kristen Bell, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Jeong, and many more.

Am I convincing you yet to go watch this show???  It’s clever, it’s hysterical, and I fell in love with it almost immediately.  The only down-side is that there are only two short (ten-episode) seasons in existence.  So prepare to have your heart broken.  But better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, right??  Party Down absolutely ranks right up there with the very best TV comedy of the past decade.  You may not ever have heard of it, but trust me: track down this show right away.

Are we having fun yet?

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