'Party Down': One of the Best Sitcoms No One is Watching
by Jason Hughes, posted May 21st 2010 4:02PM
Jane Lynch is knocking the roof off of 'Glee' every week. Adam Scott just debuted alongside Rob Lowe as a most unwelcome state arbiter on 'Parks & Recreation.' Ryan Hansen's comedy pilot 'Friends With Benefits' just got picked up by NBC. Lizzy Caplan is attached to the CBS pilot 'True Love,' though the network hasn't announced its fate yet. But what do these four actors have in common?
They all are, or were, a part of Starz' amazingly under-watched 'Party Down.' Lynch starred in most of the first season, before 'Glee' came knocking. The other three are still part of one of the sharpest ensembles on television. Megan Mullally ('Will & Grace') was brought in this season to try and fill the Lynch-sized hole in the cast.
The real tragedy for the series isn't even that it's being strip-mined for its comedic talent. It's that nobody seems to be watching. The latest episode managed a paltry 113,000 viewers, according to TV by the Numbers, and a whopping 0.1 in the 18-49 demo. Is it because it's on Starz?
'Spartacus: Blood & Sand' kind of came out of nowhere for the network, and quickly grew into a cult hit, growing week by week in viewers. It generated plenty of press and had tremendous buzz throughout it's run. Perhaps the Friday night at 10PM ET time slot isn't helping people find the time for 'Party Down,' though it does re-air several times across the Starz family of channels.
The network certainly didn't short-change the comedy in advertising for its second season premiere. There have been print ads plastered everywhere touting the addition of Mullally to the cast. Mullally herself has been making the talk show rounds, using her "big name" status to try and bolster interest in the series. She even took some time out to chat with our own Maggie Furlong for a recent installment of 'The Show Girl.'
Critics have been down with 'Party Down' from the beginning. The sharp writing, great committed acting and outrageous situations this group of caterers manage to get themselves into seems to be in an unlimited supply. And because the stories are framed around different events they're catering, the series has managed to snag some very fun guest stars for each episode.
We've already seen Enrico Colantoni ('Just Shoot Me!'), Jason Dohring ('Veronica Mars'), Ken Jeong ('Community'), Joey Lauren Adams ('Chasing Amy'), Breckin Meyer, Allison Scagliotti ('Warehouse 13'), J.K. Simmons ('Law & Order'), Rob Corddry, Steven Weber ('Wings'), Kyle Bornheimer ('Worst Week') and Kristen Bell ('Veronica Mars').
Ed Begley Jr. and Marilu Henner were at a seniors singles mixer. George Takei spoofed himself during a lavish gay wedding. Eden Sher ('The Middle') played a sexy teen looking to hook up at an event her parents were throwing. Last week's episode brought us Loretta Devine ('Eli Stone') at an awkward funeral, while this week offers Steve Guttenberg's birthday party. And yet, the guest actors never overshadow the core cast.
Most of them are struggling to make it in show business one way or another; they're only stuck doing this catering job because they can't get their acts together. Very adult in tone, the show has featured its fair share of sex and nudity, and has the language you'd expect on a premium channel. We even saw more than any of us wanted to of Ron Donald's enormous penis during the catering of a porn awards event, but we were laughing too hard at the mishaps it experienced to be too uncomfortable.
That's where the show succeeds. These people are miserable in this job. It's the last thing they saw themselves doing with their lives. They're embarrassed, most of them, to be seen by friends and former colleagues. It's a perfect reflection of the frustrations many working Americans feel every day, only they have the freedom to act out and say exactly what all of us wish we could. They're angry, bitter and frustrated and they take it out on every event they cater.
While Scott has technically been the lead, the character of Ron Donald, played by the hilarious Ken Marino, is a central part of what makes it work. The big question facing the series now, other than how to improve its ratings, is if it can continue without Scott, Hansen and potentially Caplan. As long as Marino is at the center of this team of 'Party Down' caterers, I don't see any reason it couldn't.
In one-and-a-half seasons he's gone from an overzealous dimwitted team leader to a slacker phoning it in and doing his best to drive everyone around him crazy. It's been an impressive transformation for the character, and Marino has mastered every nuance of the role with hilarious consequences. As much credit as I'll give to the actors for bringing the brilliant writing to the screen, I think it is that writing that is the true star of the show.
It's organic to the premise of a catering company for people to flow in and out of this low paying career option, so cast changes can be handled the same way. As long as it stays as sharp and witty as it is right now, 'Party Down' will remain at the top of the comedy heap. If only it could stand there in ratings as well.
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