When it comes to great but obscure t.v. shows that disappeared far too soon, one of the greater and more obscure ones is Party Down. Airing 2 modest seasons of 10 episodes each on Starz in 2009 and 2010, this half hour comedy that looked into the lives of a catering team based in the Los Angeles area featured some amazing comic performers who would all go on to be known for bigger (but not necessarily better) things over the next 5 years. Created by Jon Enbom, Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge and Paul Rudd, the show was a laugh riot and possibly a bit before it’s time in it’s content and execution. The series was recently re-released on DVD through Anchor Bay Entertainment and I thought this would be the perfect time to look back on all the things that made it great.
I mentioned briefly above how there was a great number of comedic actors who made up this bang-on cast. Ken Marino, a veteran of being a goof on camera, plays Ron, the former party guy/alcoholic who’s attempting to turn his life around and eventually open his own franchise restaurant. Adam Scott plays the de facto leading man of the piece as Henry, a washed up actor who made it big in a series of beer commercials back in the day (“Are We Having Fun Yet?”) but has now bottomed out and lost all interest in acting. His love interest, Casey – a struggling comedian who is splitting up with her husband and still chasing the dream, is brought to life by Lizzy Caplan. The two are intellectually matched and have perfect comic timing as they continually find new ways and places to have sex at the many catered events featured on the show.
Backing them up are some great performances from a number of desperate folks trying real hard to make it in their second careers as actors or writers or what not in Hollyweird. Martin Starr shines as Roman, the curmudgeon screenwriter. Ryan Hansen continues to show how he’s in the “handsom business” as wannabe actor/singer Kyle. Jane Lynch is Constance who’s a “never give up and always have a positive outlook” type. In season 2, she’s replaced by Megan Mullally as Lydia, a stage mom who wants nothing but the best for her daughter who she thinks will soon be a star.
Some of these names might not be familiar to you, but guaranteed, if you’ve seen a comedy at the theatres over the past five years (or caught some episodes of Parks and Recreation or Glee) you’ve most likely seen their faces in supporting roles. They’re a talented cast who took some pretty crazy and hilarious writing and elevated it even further all the while cursing like longshoremen and showing you the finer points of what not to do when serving food.
The Low Budget
The budget for Party Down was very low and this made no room for error. Jon Enbom, who was the most involved in the showrunner team, had to run a very tight ship when it came to schedule and planning. Only having 4 days a week for 8 to 10 weeks to shoot an entire season is a very small window. This would mean that he would have to have a very clear picture what every episode was going to look like before they went into production. Instead of pounding things out in a writers’ room while the show was already going, there was only time for quick rewrites with the full scripts being ready to go before the production went to camera. Also having such a limit on finances meant shooting on location as opposed to a set and keeping everyone involved on set at all times.
This kind of “summer camp” mentality of keeping everyone together for the whole time created a strong bond between the cast, crew and guest stars and that translated into fearless performances and trust between all involved. The show was actually funnier because of it’s lack of cash. It was a show about people so no real flash was needed.
The Guest Stars
For a series that had a tight production schedule and no money, the show had a number of great guest stars. A few celebrities made cameos that stole the scenes they were in. George Takei gets food poisoning at a birthday party. Patrick Duffy attempts to break up a wedding. The most memorable would have to be Steve Guttenberg, who forgets to cancel Party Down for an event that’s no longer happening so he invites them to hang out with him for an evening. This leads to an impromptu actors’ workshop and a number of great interactions. Guttenberg is also an example of a running theme through both seasons: the continual appearance of former cast members of Veronica Mars.
Rob Thomas was one of the producers of Party Down and it is obvious by the large number of Veronica Mars cast members who appear on the show for an episode (or two). The most important performance is given by Kristen Bell who plays Uda, the head of a rival catering team at Valhalla Catering. She ends up becoming a love interest for Henry even though she only appears in 2 episodes. Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, Daran Norris, Alona Tal and Ed Begley Jr. all make great additions to some farcical episodes that showcased this fantastic ensemble.
J.K. Simmons, Joey Lauren Adams, Breckin Meyer, Kevin Hart, Ken Jeong and Jennifer Coolidge also make noteworthy appearances and have some pretty funny scenes with the Party Down crew.
When it comes down to it, the show is 20 episodes of awesome and is great for fans of Parks and Recreation, Community, Brooklyn Nine Nine, The Office or any workplace comedy. The only thing that separates this show from them is that it’s R-rated humour and lack of reverence for the life of an actor make it all the more funny. Check out Party Down: The Complete Series, available now from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada.