With a constant stream of new reboots and revivals, you win some, but lose most, making the glorious return of Party Down (★★★★★) even better.
First airing on Starz in 2009, the comedy follows the Party Down catering crew as they try to make it big in Hollywood while also just trying to make ends meet. Packed with a cast that most comedies would literally kill for, the show quickly grew a small cult following — emphasis on “small,” as the comedy never caught a big enough audience to warrant more than two seasons.
After its cancelation, Party Down quickly joined the likes of Firefly and Freaks and Geeks on “shows canceled too soon” lists for years to come. That kept the series alive in its fans’ hearts while helping introduce it to new viewers. Keeping in line with the times, the catering comedy went from being a perennially talked about program to being first in line for a reboot. Finally, after more than a dozen years and a worldwide pandemic, Party Down returns for a third season.
Ten years after they last worked together, Party Down leader Ronald Donald (Ken Marino) has a makeshift reunion when his team is hired by former employee Kyle Bradway (Ryan Hansen), to celebrate being cast in a new MCU-style film franchise. Adam Scott returns to lead the series as Henry, who has given up on his acting dreams after only ever being cast in one viral commercial, in favor of teaching, while moonlighting with the Party Down crew for his alimony payments.
Of the original cast, all but Lizzy Caplan return, including Martin Starr as Roman, who ten years later is still working on his hard sci-fi magnum opus, Jane Lynch as Constance, a former actress and widower, and Megan Mullally as Lydia, who left Party Down to become a “mom-ager” for her child actress daughter, Escapade.
A handful of newcomers also join the Party Down crew, including Tyrel Jackson Williams as Sackson, a wonderfully out-of-touch content creator trying to make it big, and Zoë Zhao as Lucy, a pretentious chef who prefers her food not to taste good but to “make you experience something.” Jennifer Garner also joins the cast as Evie, a famous producer dating James Marsdens’ Jack Botty, who has a spark with Henry.
Like Lisa Kudrow’s The Comeback, some shows age into just the right moment. Party Down was a funny show when it first aired, but after over a dozen years of waiting, it’s clear the third season is the best it’s ever been. Each episode is packed with moments that will make you cry laughing, while showing growth in the material.
We all know that it feels like literally everything has gone crazy in the last decade, which makes Party Down‘s dry musings on Marvel-esque franchises, content creators, the pandemic, and everything in between even better.
Each episode once again follows the catering company at an event, with guest stars, insanity, and coworker hijinks returning in all their glory. The humor at the heart of season three feels much more cutting, opting to leave a joke burning just long enough for a truly amazing punchline.
While the events tend to fade into the background until the climax, the show once again excels at the little details, with random conversations between coworkers becoming some of the funniest moments.
The show’s humor also feels fleshed out, with events like celebrity surprise parties and dinners for “not-not nazis” containing surprising tact while actively not choosing the low-hanging fruit in favor of smart writing to make each episode work better than the last.
The cast remains amazing, genuinely feeling like they have lived ten years in their own world, while still bringing that little something that made things work the first time. Scott and Marino succinctly hold down each episode, with the former having aged into an even better comedic actor post-Parks and Recreation. Marino is still gloriously unhinged every second he’s onscreen, while Lynch and Mullally prove once again they are some of the best comedic actors of our time.
At only six episodes, Party Down‘s greatness feels fleeting. It isn’t perfect, but gets pretty close, with most of the comedy’s problems coming down to nitpicking (Mullally and Lynch have some scenes so funny they will reduce you to a teary mess). The short season also means some rushing during character arcs, leaving others to feel missing entirely. Jennifer Garner’s character fills Caplan’s role from the original seasons well, but doesn’t fully get the chance to really capture the audience’s heart. Zhao and Williams feel like benchwarmers, only really getting to be a part of things when the bigger players are not around.
While the first two seasons of Party Down are good, it isn’t entirely unfathomable why the show wouldn’t have made it very far the go around. However, the third season goes beyond that, clearly understanding the spark of greatness it held and cultivating it into some of the best comedy episodes in years.
Season 3 of Party Down is on Starz, with new episodes airing weekly on Fridays. Seasons 1 and 2 are on Starz and also on Hulu. Visit www.starz.com or www.hulu.com.
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