There are theme songs that once you hear will instantly put you in a good mood. Party Down’s bouncy little instrumental has always had the ability to do just that. But, would that hold true for the series revival of the cult comedy series, especially after a thirteen year absence? As time passes, people change, tastes change. Which explains why when the screeners arrived, I clicked play with apprehension, just hoping that the series still possessed some of the magic I enjoyed so much as a much younger man.
It was only a couple minutes in when the realization hit me… I was back in my happy place. On my TV screen, after over a decade, were the characters I loved so much. Like old friends visiting after an extended time; everything felt right. By the time the theme song kicked in, I had a big smile on my face. But would it last? Five episodes later into a six-episode season, that smile has not faded. If anything, it has grown considerably. The iconic pink bowtie remains a perfect fit.
The new episodes of Party Down are an absolute delight. They do not feel like a reboot at all; it is more as if the gang never left in the first place. How much this feels like a natural extension of the original seasons is uncanny. That goes beyond the show’s format, editing rhythms, and look which are all in tune with past seasons. Co-creator and showrunner, John Enborn, who is back in the saddle as head writer, captures the essence of each character while allowing them to have organically grown since we last saw them. There is not a false note in the season. It is apparent that he knows and loves these characters and because of that they just feel right.
Many of the characters are pretty much where you would expect them to be. A little older, for the most part not much wiser, and funnier than ever. Bumbling leader Ron Donald (Ken Marino) is still at Party Down in charge of a new staff who seem even less ambitious. Ron remains both enthusiastic and utterly inept at running a team. He’s one of television’s greatest cringe characters.
One familiar face remains on the Party Down team; veteran waiter, vlogger, and would-be novelist Roman (Martin Starr) who is still working on his ever-elusive elevated sci-fi opus. Roman remains as bitter as ever, especially when it comes to anyone else’s success. That is particularly true in regards to Kyle (Ryan Hansen) who after some mild acting success has finally found his meal ticket, starring as a superhero called Nitromancer. The duo’s back and forth bickering is immature and entertaining as I remember. Kyle even hires Party Down to cater his celebration party just to rub his success in Roman’s face. Something he denies, but like Roman, we know it’s true.
Attending the event is Henry (Adam Scott) whose life has taken him into unexpected directions. He’s got two children and is married, but not to Casey (Lizzy Caplan), who Henry was romantically entangled with in seasons one and two. Henry’s acting career is all but forgotten until someone recognizes him for the catchphrase that both launched and ended his acting career, and has haunted him ever since “Are we having fun yet?” Instead of acting, he spends his days as a high school teacher, something he had to explain to Kyle was “in real life,” not an acting part. A decade and several successful series later Scott still nails Hank’s sweet melancholy persona perfectly.
Absent is Caplan’s Casey who is present in recollections and TV tabloid news clips talking about the love life of the now famous comedian – another handful of salt in Henry’s wounds. Also returning are Constance (Jane Lynch) who has since married and was widowed leaving her with a hefty inheritance and Lydia (Megan Mullally) who is now a cut throat talent agent for her daughter.
Just when things were looking up for some of the crew, or at the very least they were at peace with where they landed in life, some creative genius came in the form of a twist. I am speaking about the COVID pandemic, of course. A familiar blow the entire world encountered surely could not spare the luckless gang at Party Down. The series fast-forwards and for reasons better left for you to enjoy on your own, many of our favorite lovable losers end up donning their pink bow ties again.
As in previous seasons, every episode continues to center around a new catering gig allowing the series to tackle different topics with fresh material and characters to mine the varying situations for laughs. From a Nazi gathering to a luau to a makeshift prom, each scenario takes full advantage of the cast’s comedic skills both spoken and physical – their comic timing and delivery is impeccable. It also allows for a revolving door of guest stars including James Marsden, Nick Offerman, Quinta Brunson, and Bobby Moynihan.
Most episodes benefit from the sardonic juxtaposition of the haves and the have nots, a common theme from past seasons. It is still just as painful to watch as we follow our band of dreamers serving food and beverages to an array of people who often don’t even see them. For anyone who has chased a dream only to have it just outside of your grasp, it is impossible not to root for these underdogs.
Season three also adds some new characters to the team. Sackson (Tyrel Jackson Williams) is a social media influencer who often steps away from his duties to record new content in the homes of the rich and famous. Also on Ron’s staff is a new chef, Lucy (Zoe Chao), who is more focused on creating a life changing experience than making dishes that are actually edible. Perfect fits for Party Down in all the hilariously wrong ways.
The strongest new addition to the cast is Jennifer Garner as Evie Adler, a movie producer client turned potential love interest for Henry. At first glance she looks to have it all together but she too has her own struggles. Garner is often an unsung heroine in any project she is in, probably because she makes it look so effortless. From parenting (Juno) to ass kicking (ALIAS) she always delivers and does so here adding her intrinsic likability to the mix.
Garner fills what could have been a hole in the series, she brings an optimistic vibe with her – something rare for this group. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have Caplan back, but Garner made her absence sting less. With that said, (I am probably wrong) I have this strange feeling that a last minute Casey appearance could happen.
To say this revival is a success would be a huge understatement. It is funnier than ever while using the passage of time to add some new texture to the series. Props to producers John Enbom, Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge and Paul Rudd who avoided the pitfalls other revivals have suffered. What they have pulled off here is the gold standard for revivals going forward. It reminded me over and over again why I loved this show and characters in the first place.
With only one episode left to watch I truly do not want the fun to end. The biggest question about this Party Down survival is what took so long to make it happen and when can we do this again?
Party Down airs on Starz, premiering new episodes every Friday.
Are we having fun yet? Definitely. I completely agree with your take, Steve. I too was nervous about rebooting a beloved series but it’s like it never left. And the older and more battered the cast, the funnier the jokes and the sadder the drama. I really want another season or two, at least.