Upon the recommendation of my friend Chase, I decided to check out the Starz series Party Down. Unbeknownst to me, the show was created by many of the folks responsible for one of my favorite shows of all time, Veronica Mars. Realizing this, I blazed through the two seasons of Party Down in short order.
Party Down‘s namesake is the catering company for which the main characters work. Aside from the Team Leaders (Ron in Season 1 and Henry in Season 2), no one seems to care much about the job as they all have other more pressing concerns. Catering is the perfect slacker job for actors, comedians, and writers on their way up or on their way down, and Party Down is burdened and blessed with both. Each episode centers on an event they’re catering, a premise that allows the show to stay fresh even though its themes tend toward the familiar struggles of show business. Though there aren’t many changes, it also allows flexibility in the cast. Jennifer Coolidge and the inimitable Megan Mulally step in during seasons 1 and 2 respectively to cover Jane Lynch’s absence due to her Glee obligations. The show’s episodic nature also makes room for its many cameos and plot surprises.
The series casts Adam Scott as the failed actor Henry, Marin Starr as the condescending Sci-Fi writer-nerd Roman, Lizzy Caplan as the aspiring comedienne Casey (and Henry’s love-interest and impediment for most of the show), and Veronica Mars almuni Ryan Hansen as cool Hollywood bro Kyle, Ken Marino as bumbling bossman Ron, and Jane Lynch as aloof actress Constance. Other Mars regulars who make cameo appearances include Steve Guttenberg, Joey Lauren Adams, Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, Martin Yu, Michael Kostroff, Alona Tal, Ed Begley, Jr., Daran Norris, Ryan Devlin, and Veronica herself, Kristen Bell.
Watching this show in conjunction with Veronica Mars highlights not only the strengths and differences of the cast but the writers as well. Rob Thomas, Jon Enbom, and Dan Etheridge had major hands in both, and the series each require a light touch in different ways. Party Down hovers around hearty issues but mostly deals in hilarity. Veronica Mars flirts with funny at times, but the overall focus is firmly serious.
While the entire cast is stellar, special mention is due of Ken Marino. His depiction of the smarmy Vincent Van Lowe in Veronica Mars was one of that show’s many great performances. In Party Down, he plays the insecure Team Leader, Ron Donald. The characters are as similar as they are different, and his shift from one to the other is remarkable. Whereas Vinnie was a cocksure, legend-in-his-own-mind P.I., Ron is chasing the dream of being his own boss by running a “Soup ‘R Crackers” restaurant franchise. The shift is worth mentioning because Marino pulls it off so effortlessly. The two characters are similar enough that a lesser actor could have played them both without much changing, but Marino plays them both with such subtlety that distinguishes the two with slight but noticeable differences.
All of this good stuff in another cancelled show… Will television ever allow shows of such cunning complexity to grow into their own?
Here’s a clip in which Constance (Jane Lynch), Roman (Martin Starr), and Kyle (Ryan Hansen) discuss why Baretta was called “Baretta” [runtime: 1:33]: