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Are We Having Fun Yet?: An Advance Review of Rob Thomas' New Comedy Series "Party Down"

As a huge fan of Veronica Mars, I've been extremely curious to see what creator Rob Thomas would do with a pared-down comedy about a group of wannabe actors and writers working as party caterers in LA. Especially since said comedy, Party Down, which launches next month on pay cabler Starz, features more than a few Veronica Mars alums in starring or cameo roles.

So I was ecstatic when I had the opportunity to catch an early look at Starz's Party Down, which stars Ken Marino (Veronica Mars), Adam Scott (Tell Me You Love Me), Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield), Martin Starr (Freaks & Geeks), Jane Lynch (Two and a Half Men), and Ryan Hansen (Veronica Mars). No, you're not dreaming: Rob Thomas and fellow executive producer/writers John Enbom, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd may have assembled the single best comedy cast EVER.

A quick recap of Party Down's simple premise: Ken Marino's moronic team leader Ron Donald (a more genial version of Michael Scott, had he been a recreational drug user) keeps a watchful eye on his misfit employees at Party Down, an event catering company which arranges fetes for everything from Sweet 16 parties to porn awards. Yet it's painfully apparent that none of them want to be in the catering biz and each is hoping to break into the entertainment industry. This is felt most keenly by Ron's hiring of Henry Pollard (Adam Scott), a would-be actor who had a big break in a catchphrase-laden beer commercial... and never really worked again. He's forced rather unwillingly to return to work for Party Down after an absence of eight years as a bartender.

Rounding out the cast are the fellow wannabes employed by Party Down: there's Kyle (Ryan Hansen), a would-be actor/model/rock star who views his job ("the overall handsome business") as mainly a way to meet hot women; Roman (Martin Starr), an aspiring writer with a seething hatred of people who haven't seen Repo Man who is engaged in a never-ending battle of wills with his nemesis Kyle; Constance (Jane Lynch), a faded bit-part actress who acts as the team's psychotic mother hen and keeps her age firmly under wraps while stealing guests' cheese; and Casey (Lizzy Caplan), a married stand-up comedian whose relationship with her possessive (and aggressive) husband Mike (Wes Armstrong) is further complicated by the arrival of Henry, with whom she definitely feels some sparks. (If the above wasn't enough, look for guest stars Enrico Colantoni, Ed Begley Jr., Jason Dohring, and Alona Tal to turn up at various points early on in the season.)

I had the opportunity to watch a few episodes of Party Down that were made available for press and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed what I've seen of the series so far.
The dialogue is top-notch and the actors are all perfectly cast. I especially enjoyed the third episode ("Pepper McMaster's Singles Seminar"), which sees the gang catering a singles meet-up for senior citizens and features the reunion between Constance and one of her many, many former flames (Ed Begley Jr.). I thought that this episode perfectly managed to crystallize the series' premise and made the best use of all of the characters to full effect. Additionally, its combination of deadpan humor and absurd plot twists involving heart attacks, strippers, and erectile dysfunction medication are used to full effect here, right alongside some genuine emotional beats.

Party Down's first episode ("Willow Canyon Homeowners Party") seems a little bit stilted, as if both the writers and actors were trying to find their footing while introducing all of the characters and the series' revolving setting. I found the party setting in the third episode to work a little better than that in the first, which features a put-upon Hawaiian-shirt-wearing husband (Colantoni) bonding with Henry... and diving naked into the pool in front of his guests. (If the thought of full-frontal nudity from Papa Mars disturbs you, look away.)

However, while the series' first episode might come off as a little awkward, it definitely showcases the series' loopy charms and points to Party Down's full potential as a stage for some deliciously wacky (and terribly flawed) individuals all trying to achieve their dream while sucking it up week to week for another paycheck.

It's more than enough to make me wish I subscribed to Starz.

Party Down premieres March 20th at 10:30 pm ET/PT on Starz.


Anonymous said…
Wow - this sounds like a really fun show. How come it's on Starz? I don't think I've ever watched anything on Starz before but I will definitely be checking this out. Thanks for the review!
Anonymous said…
Do we know if this series will be available on iTunes as it airs??
Anonymous said…
Didn't even hear about this show until reading your review. Sounds awesome and will definitely watch.
Anonymous said…
Ryan Hansen, Ken Marino, and appearances by EBJ and Jason Dohring? Sign me up now!!!!

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