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Fame is Fleeting (But Comedy Isn't): An Advance Review of Season Two of Starz's Party Down

The employees of Party Down Catering seem to fall into two categories: those who continue to dream big and those whose dreams have gotten thrown on the ground, stomped on a few dozen times, and then set on fire for good measure.

Season Two of Starz's deliciously droll comedy Party Down, created by Rob Thomas, John Enbom, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd, returns tomorrow for another season of scathing satire, trenchant observation, and dark comedy. (You can read my feature article on the series here.)

Despite its presence on an up-and-coming pay cable network that doesn't boast the reach of HBO or Showtime, cable's big guns would be lucky to have a comedy that's this hilarious, biting, and emotionally resonant, often all at the time same.

Set nine months after the events of Season One, Party Down finds its caterers heading once more into the breach as they cater the backstage after-party for rock metal god Jackal Onassis (guest star Jimmi Simpson). Changes are afoot: Henry Pollard (Adam Scott) is now team leader, replacing Ron (Ken Marino) who left to fulfill his dream of opening up a Soup'er Crackers franchise. Casey Klein (Lizzy Caplan) hasn't been heard from in months after she broke up with Henry and booked a stand-up comedy gig on a cruise. (Megan Mullally's Lydia Dunfree is a new face at the catering company, following Jane Lynch's departure during Season One.)

Life may have moved on but for the employees of Party Down, they're still stuck in the grind, catering one event after another and still not taking their jobs very seriously, even with Henry attempting to exert his authority over his team. An on-site firing leads Henry to ask boss Alan Duck to send a replacement... who just happens to be Casey, returned from her cruise.

Awkward much?

That awkwardness adds a nice layer of tension throughout these episodes as Henry and Casey must both adapt to working together again (though now in a boss-employee context) and the fact that they've both allegedly moved on. Henry and Casey's relationship--or lack thereof--is the central dynamic within Party Down, although it's not the only one. Each of the characters gets the chance to shine in an array of situations. Not unsurprisingly, Ken Marino's Ron winds up--SPOILER ALERT!--back in the group by the second episode and brings with him a whole host of baggage, not least of which are the reappearance of his diverse addictions.

While Lynch has departed the series for Glee, I have to say that it's hard to miss Constance as the chemistry among the actors is just so fantastic that they more than make up for the lack of Lynch. Mullally is a first-rate addition to the cast and manages to integrate herself quite quickly, offering a very different perspective on Hollywood as a wannabe stage mom to triple threat daughter Escapade, whom she believes will be a star.

There's an easy camaraderie between the cast members and a rhythm to their interactions that feels painfully real at times. Snippets of conversations about meaningless ephemera help to create the sensation that we're eavesdropping on real-life and the dynamic between frenemies Roman (Martin Starr), still trying to make it as a hard sci-fi writer, and Kyle (Ryan Hansen), the actor/model/musician on the cusp of stardom should his base-jumping movie take off, is lovingly crafted by these two polar opposites, casting a nice patina of wit and snark onto the already pitch-perfect humor.

I've seen the first five fantastic episodes of Party Down's second season and I don't want to give too much away about the plot of each of the five events that they cater, though the fifth episode ("Steve Guttenberg's Birthday") might just be my very favorite episode of the series to date, as the gang caters a party--for themselves--on The Gutte's fiftieth birthday, which leads to Casey discovering that Henry was once (and still could be) an amazing actor, Roman and his writing partner (guest star Christopher Mintz-Plasse) putting on a reading of their sci-fi feature script, and hot tub-related shenanigans. (It also features Steven Guttenberg as an extremely heightened and absurd version of himself. At least I hope so, anyway.)

As with the very best comedies (such as Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's The Office or Extras), Party Down challenges you not just to laugh but to feel, mining the uncomfortable silence between words, the painfulness of regret, and the sting of botched expectations for humor that's both squirm-inducing and riotous.

There's a real emotional core to the series, one that explores the soul-crushing world of Hollywood and the way that the entertainment industry spits people out without giving them their heart's desire. It's a series that asks a question about each of us: whether we're working towards a dream or just dreaming while we're working, slogging away in a thankless job that went from temporary to permanent. In a society that judges us on what we do rather than what we dream, it's the rare comedy that investigates the division between reality and our ideal selves, especially with as much charm, humor, and raunchy content as Party Down.

You'd do well to cancel your Friday night plans and spent it with the crew of Party Down. After all, with its razor-sharp insights and jaw-dropping comedy, this is one party you'll never want to end.

Season Two of Party Down launches Friday evening at 10 pm ET/PT on Starz.


Cara said…
This is one of the best comedies on TV! Thank you so much for the advance review and the interview with Adam Scott. This terrific show needs more champions like you!

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