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Televisionary Exclusive: Writer/Executive Producer John Enbom Talks "Party Down"

If you're at all like me, chances are you've fallen under the quirky and hilarious charms of Starz's biting comedy Party Down, created by Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge, John Enbom, and Paul Rudd.

Party Down, which stars Ken Marino, Adam Scott, Jane Lynch, Ryan Hansen, Lizzy Caplan, and Martin Starr, follows the misadventures of the employees of a hapless catering team, each of whom dreams of a better life doing... anything but catering.

I caught up with Party Down writer/executive producer John Enbom (Veronica Mars) to talk about the genesis of the series, why he believes viewers have latched onto this comedy as quickly as they have, the likelihood of a sophomore season, and whether we'll get to see executive producer Paul Rudd turn up in a guest role.

Televisionary: Where did the idea for Party Down originate? How did you, Rob, Dan, and Paul come up with the concept?

John Enbom: The cater-waiter idea was originally Rob [Thomas]'s and, since the rest of us had all been extremely immersed in the British Office at the time (this being, like, five years ago), he brought it to us and we all got it right away.

Speaking for Rob, I believe there were a couple impulses at the heart of the idea. The first was the concept of the "every episode is a party" -- it seemed like a way to get a workplace comedy out of the workplace, so you could get your standard "workplace" show unfolding in the midst of a little Christopher Guest movie every week as the characters dipped in and out of a new little social subculture.

The second thought was the something we, as people who had done our share of slogging through the entertainment world, understood pretty well, which was the concept of chasing the dream, and that sense of doubt about if it was going to pan out or not. If the British Office was about people giving in, willingly or not, to the rat race, we were interested in the idea of people clinging to the dream, and struggling (or failing to struggle) with the idea of when to let go. It was our attempt to find a new spin on the Office tone -- a take on American aspirational society, the whole "Follow the dream" impulse, etc. That's how we landed on the idea of a main character who had finally abandoned his dreams and was struggling to make sense of himself and start over at a slightly uncomfortably point in his life. So that's pretty much how I recall the concept coming together.

Televisionary: While each episode tells a self-contained story set at one of the team's catered events, there seems to be a throughline running throughout the season in terms of Henry and Casey's relationship. Was there an intentional decision to steer away from more overtly serialized comedy and keep their relationship in the background?

Enbom: Yes. We wanted to strike a balance between the ongoing character dramas and the episodic humor of the sitcom. Since each episode is its own party, you have a built-in beginning, middle and end for every story. You're in, you're out, that's that. We didn't want to be making a full-on serialized drama -- we wanted to make episodes that stood by themselves without too much trouble -- so we kept the ongoing character stuff in the background. It was also a way for us to gradually explore Henry's attempts to re-configure his life. If he no longer has a dream that gives him a sense of purpose, what replaces it?

Televisionary: Is there a freedom to working with a nascent cable network like Starz in terms of pushing the envelope with content? What is it like writing a series that can contain nudity, adult language, and more risque situations than you'd normally find on network television?

Enbom: There's an incredible sense of freedom working on cable, and especially with an outfit like Starz that is just getting started in this world. This was, I believe, the first show Starz produced themselves, so we were very much in it together. The process was very collaborative, because we were both figuring it out as we went along. There was a "making a student film" quality to the production that kept it fresh as we went along.

Creatively, it's fantastic. Not only are you freed from the more formulaic demands of the usual network show, but you don't have to shy away from anything. You can follow any situation where ever you feel like going. People can swear, do drugs, fool around, etc., in a way that lends itself to the naturalism of the show. Since we've all come from more staid network writing backgrounds, it actually took a little effort to remind ourselves we had this freedom -- I wasn't used to having nudity, drug humor, etc., in shows, and it took some practice to loosen up and not censor yourself. But it's a great way to work, and I think it makes the show looser, and more interesting and real.

Televisionary: Are you surprised by how much viewers have latched onto Party Down as quickly as they have and that, after only airing four episodes, people are already devoted to this series?

Enbom: We've been delighted with the reception, no doubt. It was such a scrappy, under the radar production, and it all came together so quickly -- Starz ordered the episodes that summer, and we were prepping to shoot in the fall -- there was an element of "is this really happening?" to the whole affair, and to see it out there, and well received, has been very rewarding. I think it's a testament also to the dedication of the cast and crew, who really "got" the whole idea right away and threw themselves into it with great enthusiasm. The show was a real joy to make, and I think it shows.

Televisionary: Given that the series' format is so specifically based around their catering events, will we ever see the characters at home or outside of work?

Enbom: I believe we have a single scene in the next few episodes where Henry interviews for another job, but otherwise we always intended to only see our characters at work. We liked the idea of seeing how these people interact and deal when they're all trapped together in a job they don't want to be doing, and never really felt an impulse to break out of that.

Televisionary: This past week's episode ("Sin-Sation Awards After-Party") took place at a porn awards show party. What else can we expect to see the gang get entangled in for the rest of the season?

Enbom: Still to come: a failed sweet sixteen party, a corporate teambuilding day, a mobster acquittal party, a high school reunion, and a wedding.

Televisionary: Is there any news about a possible renewal for the series? How likely do you think Party Down's chances are for Season Two? And how easily would you be able to reassemble the whole cast for another go-around?

Enbom: We have very high hopes. As far as getting the cast reassembled, we, again, have very high hopes. We love them all, so all of our fingers are very tightly crossed.

Televisionary: We've seen a lot of Veronica Mars cast members turn up in guest roles over the course of the first season and I know that Kristen Bell is slated to appear in the season finale. Are there any actors from Veronica Mars who you'd like to see guest star on Party Down? (I'm putting in a request right now, if I can, for Tina Majorino.)

Enbom: That would be a great idea. Since it's a small, not-wildly-big-spending show, we've mostly cast through favors and references from friends, etc. Hence, we've gone pretty deep into the Veronica Mars rolodex already. But hopefully if we get a Season Two, we'll be going back to it.

Televisionary: Given Paul Rudd's busy feature film schedule, is it possible that he could turn up on the series in Season Two? Was he ever slated to appear on-screen in the first season?

Enbom: We hope so. While he was very involved as we were putting the idea together, as you say, he's got something of a film career going, and he works a lot, and he's the only one of the four who doesn't live in LA. I think he'd love to do one if he's free, and I'm sure as we mull over a possible Season Two we'll have him in mind for something. Hopefully we can figure out something he can't possibly resist, which means we'll need to be extra funny.

Party Down airs Friday nights at 10:30 pm ET/PT on Starz.

Comments

Bella Spruce said…
This show is really fun. The cast is great and the comedic style definitely reminds me of a Christopher Guest movie. Although they were influenced by Guest and The Office, I'm glad they didn't do it mockumentary style and found their own, unique voice. I hope there is a second season!
AskRachel said…
Thanks for the great interview! I love Party Down and don't think it's getting the attention it deserves. The Office has gotten really stale this season and Party Down, 30 Rock, and Better Off Ted are breathing new life into the workplace comedy.

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