Monday, May 11, 2009

Party Down

The world of catering and the world of D-list Hollywood are two things I have no familiarity with but when these two worlds are brought together in Party Down, it feels all too painfully authentic.  Would-be actors, a writer with 4 half finished novels (and some sci-fi screenplays he'd like to tell you about) and a struggling stand-up comedienne are among those forced to serve the upper-class of Los Angeles under the watch of Ron Donald and his Party Down catering company.  Ken Marino (of The State and his underrated 2006 film Diggers) plays Ron, a reformed partier who is now endearingly serious about his job, and makes him an instant addition to the list of great bosses of television.  Ron just wants to get good marks on the feedback card at the end of the night and tries his best to keep his employees from getting in the way of this happening, even if sometimes, like in the episode "California College Conservatives Union Caucus" when he's found rubbing dirt and setting fire to a US flag (he had his reasons) by the young Republicans awaiting Gov. Schwarzenegger's arrival, he's the cause of the calamity.

Party Down has a perfect set up.  Each episode takes place at a new function, ranging from a sweet 16 to a porn awards after party.  I can't imagine why the idea hasn't been used before.  It's one that provides the opportunity for an endless string of guest stars without it feeling forced.  So far we've had the hilarity brought by a horny pot smoking Ed Begley Jr., a creepy Steven Webber with an eye scar and a foul mouthed JK Simmons. Also, It's being a show on Starz means that it's a shortened season of 10 episodes, which means it's filler free.  In short, it's a perfect formula.

Marino shares the spotlight with Adam Scott, who's ostensibly the star of the show.  He's shows up to Party Down in the first episode having swallowed his pride after a failed attempt at being an actor (though he did spout a successful catch phrase in a beer commercial which looks to forever haunt him).  Scott is kind of a "that guy" he's shown up in countless TV shows and had small parts in a number of popular films but in Party Down he charms you in a casual way that his other roles have not allowed for.  He's immediately drawn to a co-worker played by the lovely Lizzy Caplan, the struggling stand-up when she's not slinging deurves, and their relationship is very much in the Pam-Jim mold.  There's a lot of enjoyment to be had from watching them tiptoe around all the landmines found in the early going and testing the waters of a relationship.  There's a moment in the 3rd or 4th episode when Caplan is trying to figure out what to do with her career and Scott asks her if she wants his advice and without a moments pause she says, No.  It's a funny moment, she says it with a bit of a wink but it's also sincere and kinda heartbreaking, as is most of what Scott goes through in the series.

Like most great shows, it's the supporting cast that sets it apart from the rest and raises the show to excellence.  Here we have Martin Starr, Jane Lynch and Ryan Hansen.  If you don't know who Martin Starr and Jane Lynch are, then it's possible you may be comedy adverse and should just move on.  Starr plays the writer, a fan of "hard sci-fi" and the worst kind of geek, the bitter kind.  And as such, he's unwanted in just about every situation and the one who hates his job the most.

Lynch, on the other hand, seemingly loves the job.  She's the one team player in the bunch, the one that finds fun in mingling with the upper crust, even if it is in a white shirt with a pink bow tie and a tray of finger food.  She's the one member of Party Down at peace with having her shot at Hollywood behind her and happy to pass on any advice she can to her co-workers -- to the point where it can be overbearing.

Ryan Hansen is more of an unknown quantity unless, like me, you were a fan of Veronica Mars.  Hansen proves good on his work as Dick Casablancas and turns out to still be terrifically funny and also capable of playing the nice guy instead of the smarmy creep.  In fact, a lot of Party Down's pedigree comes from Veronica Mars.  Hansen, Marino and Scott all had roles on the show in one form or another and one of the co-creator/writers is Rob Thomas, Veronica's creator and show-runner.  Paul Rudd, a Veronica guest star on it's last season, also has a behind the scenes hand in the show.  All of this is a way of me saying, yes Party Down is great, but if you missed out on Veronica Mars, you really missed out on one of the top 10 TV shows of the decade so do yourself a favor, pick up some DVDs and do something about that.

Party Down is on Fridays on Starz.  You, like me, may not have Starz -- but you can watch it on Netflix Watch Instantly if you have a computer (which you do) or a Roku (which I do and love give me money Netflix). There's two more episodes to go, so now's is an ideal time to do what I did last weekend and get yourself caught up.

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