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From the DVD Shelf: Party Down Season Two!

Last month I wrote about the terrific first season of Party Down. I wasted little time in devouring the show’s second season, as well.  Sadly, these two short seasons represent the entire run of the show, but I can’t recommend them highly enough to you.

To re-cap, Party Down focuses on the sad-sack employees of Party Down, a small Hollywood catering business.  Pretty much every single one of the Party Down staff are wannabe actors, hoping for their big break while toiling away at a menial job they detest.  The genius of the show’s structure is that every episode is set at a different Party Down event/party.  So each episode becomes its own self-contained little movie, with totally different locations and guest-stars.  It’s a brilliant structure for a TV show, and one that could have provided endless story-telling opportunities.  Sadly that was not to be.

Season two of Party Down begins a few months after the end of season one.  Ron (Ken Marino)’s Soup R Crackers franchise has failed, and he slinks back to Party Down as a depressed, angry slacker.  With Henry (Adam Scott) now team leader, the first few episodes of the season revels in the reversal-of-roles.  (Now Ron is the difficult one, and Henry is the exasperated boss trying to keep him and the rest of their motley crew in line.)

The only major cast change is that Jane Lynch had left the series (to appear in Glee), so season two introduces us to a new character Lydia (Megan Mullally).  Ms. Mullally is phenomenal as the loopily deranged Hollywood mom, trying to guide her pre-teen daughter to super-stardom.  The show’s creators wisely chose to create an entirely different character from Lynch’s Constance.  While I missed Jane Lynch, of course, Megan Mullally is so entertaining that I quickly accepted her addition to the cast.

Season two of Party Down again blesses us with some terrific guest-stars.  J.K. Simmons, Joey Lauren Adams, and Kristen Bell all return from season one.  Dave (Gruber) Allen (guidance counselor Jeff Rosso on Freaks and Geeks) gives a memorable turn as a sci-fi author having a brush with Hollywood.  But the season’s best guest star, and the star of arguably the season’s best episode, is Steve Guttenberg.  That’s right, Police Academy’s Steve Guttenberg.  In the episode “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday,” Mr. Guttenberg hires the Party Down crew to cater his birthday.  But his friends throw him a surprise party the day before, and he forgets to cancel the booking.  So when Party Down shows up at his house, Mr. Guttenberg (playing himself) decides to invite the gang into his house to have a party with him.  It’s a crazy premise, but the half-hour that follows is hilarious and surprisingly touching.  Mr. Guttenberg dominates the proceedings, flitting back and forth between every member of the gang and acting as a sort of Yoda to each of them.  It’s a phenomenal performance in a superb episode.

Party Down is consistently anti-schmaltz, which is one of the reasons I love it so.  Yet the relationship between Henry (Adam Scott, so great on Parks and Recreation these days) and Casey (Lizzy Kaplan) provides the heart of the show, and I was pleased to see that relationship well-served by the stories of the second season.

Whenever I find myself watching a cancelled-too-soon series, I always start to get nervous as the final episode approaches.  It would be so disappointing if I didn’t feel a decent sense of closure from the final episode!  Luckily, the season’s (and the series’) final installment, “Constance Carmell Wedding” is a real winner.  And yes, to my great delight, the titular Constance was indeed Jane Lynch’s Constance, returning to the series for its swan song.  The episode opens with some pretty broad Jewish stereotypes that had me a bit worried, but the whole thing builds to an outrageously hysterical Holocaust musical joke (you really have to see it to believe it) that had me on the floor.  When the closing credits appeared, my only disappointment was in feeling that the Henry-Casey story hadn’t reached a satisfying resolution.  But the show did not fail me.  The mid-credits final scene (the show always stops the end-of-episode credits for a final scene or scenes) returns to Henry/Casey and wraps things up in a very nice way.

Oh, Party Down, I hardly knew ye.  What a shame that so few episodes (only twenty in total, between the two seasons) were made of this phenomenal show.  I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this terrific show to all of you fine readers.  Track this one down, you won’t regret it.

“Are we having fun yet?”

(Post Mortem: Hard-core Party Down fans should be sure not to miss the brief Party Down reunion in a 2011 episode of Children’s Hospital, a Comedy Central show starring Ken Marino and Megan Mullally.  The clip seems to have vanished from youtube, but I found the whole episode available here.  Scroll to the very end to watch the short Party Down reunion moment.  It’s not that funny, sadly, but still brings a smile to my face to see the gang (minus Adam Scott, who was apparently unavailable) reunited, albeit super-briefly.)

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