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WATCH THIS: Lapping up 'Party Down'
June 24, 2010  | By Diane Werts

party down jane lynch starz.jpgOkay, I'm going for broke on this one -- Party Down is TV's best current comedy. As it eavesdrops on a Hollywood cater crew full of wannabes waiting for their acting/singing/writing talents to be appreciated, this Starz show sketches a deliriously relatable world of indignity, disappointment, faux pas and, oh yeah, gut-busting hilarity.

Friday's second-season finale delivers on all counts, with an ace return appearance by Jane Lynch, the Glee fave who made an equally sharp mark on Party Down's first season as the bit player forever delivering sage "wisdom" to her younger compatriots (when not smoking dope in the restroom with old flame Ed Begley Jr.).

This time, her free-spirited Constance Carmell is the cateree, getting married to a bum-ticker millionaire (Alex Rocco) whose claws-out daughter (Jennifer Irwin) wants the pre-nup signed pronto. Which all sounds cliche, but -- as usual with Party Down -- turns out to be anything but.

For all this show's seeming stereotypes -- dim blond actor/singer/model, bitter "hard sci-fi" scripter, dejected actor unhappily recognized for a TV commercial catchphrase -- these characters live as wide a range of emotions as anybody on the air. We ride along as they're variously yearning to succeed, frantically attempting to network, playing pranks on each other, decrying their lots in life, killing time with various intoxicating substances, and embarrassing themselves with inappropriate behavior at unfortunate moments around all the wrong (right) people.

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But while you're laughing at their foibles -- and these episodes are spontaneously, outrageously, choke-on-your-drink funny -- you're aching for their ambitions. Party Down loves, loves, loves these people, which far too many comedy shows, especially the "edgy" ones, ultimately don't. This show never makes fun of their efforts or aspirations, even when they seem seriously deluded. It's pulling for them to get what they want, even if it's a Soup'r Crackers franchise, the dream of the earnest "team leader" found at last season's porn convention with his pants down.

Dreams are not only indulged here, they're required to get through the dreariness of daily existence when everybody else seems to have everything they ever wanted. (But really don't.) They're the ballast of life in haven't-made-it-yet Hollywood.

And Party Down makes them tangible. Friday's season-ender leads us to wonder what Constance's marriage motivations are -- Money? Love? Something to do? -- but resolves it all in an emotionally honest way. And she's not the only one. Even sad-sack commercial "star" Henry (Adam Scott) may find a way to hit the accelerator on his stuck-in-neutral life.

Party Down takes delightful advantage of having a fresh situation slate every week, when the cater crew lands in a different location among another group of L.A. strangers -- young Republicans, porn conventions, backstage with rock stars, sweet sixteen parties, funerals, draft days, and, inevitably, Steve Guttenberg's birthday. The situations alone can make an episode worth watching, while providing particularized moments of both humor and heart. Watching the regulars bounce off so many kinds of others adds multiple shades of nuance to their souls.

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And they're not repeating themselves, the way so many characters on other shows start to do. It helps that Party Down does 10-episode seasons, certainly, but these cater crew members viscerally live and breathe and evolve. The show doesn't sell them out for jokes, and it isn't constrained by network formatting (straightforward plots that end cleanly) or standards (which means: swearing, nudity, drug use, adult situations). Smart people here do dumb things, and simpletons can get complicated. Incidents start and end erratically, or simply stumble through. The party hounds around them are just as finely sketched by wonderfully deft guest actors. (Among them: J.K. Simmons, Jimmi Simpson, Thomas Lennon, Steven Weber, and Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring and Kristen Bell from producer Rob Thomas' cult gem Veronica Mars -- and this week's bombshell cameo by a star playing himself. Can't say who it is -- it's just too convulsive a surprise.)

Party Down lets us be the fly on the wall, but it doesn't make false moves for our benefit -- not like The Office, having its characters glance at the "documentary" camera, punctuating a joke to make sure we get it. This Starz show is a sublime slice of life going on with or without our presence, underplaying its humor, and trusting us to keep up with its wacky world.

(Party Down is also available via Starz On Demand on many cable systems. And the episodes are available for streaming via Netflix. You can also watch online.)




angela said:

Hi! I started to watch "Party Down" about a month ago. I watched it when I needed to lighten my mood or just plain feel better.

And because I am watching "The Wire," a show that can be depressing (even though I love it), it was great to have "Party Down" to go to for a much needed break in seriousness, and without feeling like I was wasting my time.

FWIW, I did watch on Netflix streaming, so that's nice too. No planning ahead needed. :-)

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