"Here's a promise, you fucking has-been never-was: you'll never work in this town again!"
Right about now, you're stepping foot off that Greyhound bus from Sheboygan with stars glittering in your eyes. This is it: Los Angeles! It's just like what you'd been staring at longingly on Entertainment Tonight for all these years. Okay, maybe not that wino in the corner over there who's puking into a Target bag, but still...! You were the lead in your high school's production of "Brigadoon". Your drama teacher and your girlfriend's mom and...yeah, everyone in your sleepy little town kept telling you that you're gonna make it. You've got the drive, you've got the talent, and now you're here! Look out, world: here comes...oh, ten thousand people who look exactly like you, have exactly the same résumé, and are gonna be competing for the same roles you are. Oh, and tomorrow, there'll be another ten thousand, and another 10K the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that, and... Yeah. You get where I'm going here. If you're lucky, maybe -- maybe -- you'll be cast as the cool older brother in a Skecher's ad or something. As the years drag on, you'll get older and more embittered while the newcomers stay the same age. You'll be trudging through a parade of dead-end jobs -- the kind that are flexible enough that you can still sneak off to an audition every once in a while for a role you're not gonna get -- but the whole time, you're still clutching onto that dream: you know you're still gonna make it.
So yeah, this isn't The Hills. This isn't Entourage. No, Party Down is a show about the other side of Hollywood. Failure. Despair. It's a show about dreams that rot and decay. It's about clinging to the delusion that in a town of ten million, whatever meager talents you have to offer are somehow gonna bubble through to the top. Oh yeah! ...and it's a comedy.
"You're so pretty. You have to be an actress."
"Oh, God. Thank you, no. I'm actually a comedienne."
"::audible gasp!:: Like Whoopi Goldberg?"
"Ed, my ex, hates Whoopi Goldberg. He said women shouldn't do comedy because they're not naturally funny."
"Well, club owners -- many of them -- think that way."
"...and he has issues with blacks."
"So why he would have an affair with one...?! That -- that is a question for a psychologist. Or, as Ed would say, a Jew faggot."
I've already written one way too overenthusiastic review of Party Down, so if you're thinking about diving into the series for the first time, that's probably a better starting point. If you need a refresher, though...? Party Down is a low-rent catering service with offices stretching from one coast to the other, and their L.A. branch is a magnet for stalled careers and dashed dreams. Picking up where we left off from last season, Henry (Adam Scott) has been promoted from Charming Slacker Type all the way up to Team Leader. He gave up on acting years ago, and having resigned himself to being a beer ad catchphrase in the "where are they now?" file, Henry's happy with a one-bedroom apartment and benefits. Wait, he gets benefits, right? Anyway, he's supposed to try to corrall a bunch of people who give as little a shit about their jobs as he does but prod them into going through the motions anyway. Roman (Martin Starr) and Kyle (Ryan Hansen) are still on the payroll. Roman's still busy churning out hard sci-fi screenplays, and I think that's code for "impenetrable jargon". Think of a cross between a SyFy Original and Gravity's Rainbow about mutant fungi and Bosonic string theory or something. Kyle's hoping to claw his way to the B-list with the new BASE jumping flick he's starring in. As long as it...I dunno, doesn't get dumped direct-to-DVD in Singapore or whatever, he's in, right? Oh, and Henry just had to shitcan an unreliable boozehound, so Casey (Lizzy Caplan) is filling in. She's back from doing stand-up on a cruise ship, and catering'll help pay the rent until she lands a role in that Apatow flick she's up for so...this is me crossing my fingers. Sure, Casey and Henry used to have a thing, but her being back on the team shouldn't be awkward. I mean, she's seeing someone. Henry's been dating Uda (Kristen Bell) for the past however-many months. They're adults. They can be professional about this whole thing. I mean, this is real-life, not a half-hour comedy that has to Sam and Diane it up, right? Right?
The shiny new face this season is Lydia (Megan Mullally). She's an overbearing, delusional, unrelentingly optimistic stage mom -- or she would be a stage mom if her daughter Escapade had ever walked in front of a camera -- with plenty of manic in her depressive. Oh, and she really, really, really, really, really, really wants you to like her. What else has changed? What else? Oh! Turns out that Ron (Ken Marino) did get his Soup-'r-Crackers franchise off the ground, and he's even scored a sweet Camaro and a hornball, I-hope-she's-legal girlfriend. Um, we're kind of in a recession, though, and soup kitchens and bready things aren't really what you wanna market in a down economy. You already saw the cover art with Ron back in that ill-fitting button-up shirt and pink bowtie, so the smart money says you can figure out where he goes from there.
"You didn't make it easy for me, okay, Henry? So what's good for the goose is good for the gander."
"Um, that actually means that the same rules should apply for men and women."
"I'm a man, Henry!"
"Ron, you asked me for this job."
"Yeah, and whooda thunk you on top of the world and me working for you? Huh? That's like Trading Places. I'm Dan Aykroyd, and you're Eddie Money."
"...and Mandy is my Jamie Lee Curtis. She saved me from being a bum. And Uda...? Uda is your black lady in a bikini. Yeah! At the end of the movie, Billy Ray Valentine, he's in a hot tub and the black lady with the bikini..."
"Ron! It's not Trading Places. You're not Dan Aykroyd, I'm not Eddie Murphy...I'm definitely not Eddie Money. Just...take the windbreaker and put it on this time, okay? We're getting complaints."
"...I'm Dan Aykroyd."
"You're not Dan Aykroyd!"
"Psssh. Says Eddie Murphy."
Look, if you made it this far, I don't have to sell you on Party Down. You've probably already watched the first season, so you know it's the most unrelentingly hysterical thing on the air since Arrested Development got whacked. It's a workplace comedy where the workplace is something completely different every week, and continually swapping out the setting and supporting cast infuses it with an energy nothing else on TV has. It's brilliantly smart, it's indescribably funny, it's surprisingly resonant when the need arises, and it has one of the best ensembles around at its fingertips. It's not at all an easy balancing act, juggling soul-crushing failure with a sense of humor. Also, these really are characters, not meat-grinders-on-legs churning out one joke after another. Wait, it sounds like maybe I am trying to sell you on a show you've already bought into. Anyway, all of this is what made the first season such an amazing discovery last year, and the same holds true this time around too. Season two toys with some of the dynamics: putting someone who doesn't give a shit into a position of authority, not just keeping two former lovers split apart but shoving them into a boss/employee situation to boot, and the once unrelentingly-upbeat Ron now a cowering, inconfident, pit-stained mess. It's still the same show you dug so much in its first season, with just enough pieces moved around to keep things interesting.
'Course, Party Down doesn't really want to repeat itself either. We already did weddings, birthday parties, and corporate gigs last year, so season two opts for some more...um, exotic events to cater. Case in point:
"So it's like an orgy...?"
"It's not like -- it's precisely an orgy. How did you not get that from the invitation?"
"I thought it was like a mask party."
"What's a fucking mask party?"
"I got that it was an orgy."
"You did? Totally. Drinks! Great. Maybe we can loosen up, huh?"
"...and I have straws in case anyone has...trouble with their beaks!"
"Super. Great. So has no one seen Eyes Wide Shut?"
"Oh! I have! It's the one where Lindsay Lohan plays two people."
"No, it's the one with the orgy."
"...that one's good too."
See, Nick Dicintio (Reno 911's Thomas Lennon) has just gotten divorced, and what better way to ring in freedom than an orgy? Hell, cater the whole thing, get everyone to wear masks...it'll be classy! The thing is, Nick classed up the invitations so much that no one realized there was supposed to be any fucking, and an orgy without intercourse is like a day without sunshine. Lydia's eager to pounce on some fresh, unattached, well-funded meat, and while she's trying in vain to snuggle up to the host (like a cougar stalking a bear or something?), Roman's trying to kickstart the orgy by grouping the fuck-actives and parading 'em in front of the fuck-passives. He's thought this through. Roman's libido also drives a big chunk of the season premiere, "Jackal Onassis Backstage Party", where he does the Prince-and-Pauper thing by switching places with a multimillionaire goth-glam-rocker (played by Jimmi Simpson) who's bored with fucking lingerie models on piles of hundred dollar bills. Another new venue this season is catering a funeral at the funeral home, which I'm pretty sure might be a first for anything, ever. There's a lot going on in that one -- including some baby mama drama -- but the highlight would probably be Aryan-wet-dream Kyle seeking out an aging black guitarist's help in understanding the blues...and Kyle thinks forking over his belt is like slaves getting whipped and that scraping the breading off fried shrimp is like picking cotton. All kinds of yikes.
I don't want to just recap every single episode, so I'll do one more and stop. Pinkie swear. Easily the highlight of the season -- and maybe the single greatest half-hour of comedy in the past year -- swoops in at the halfway mark. Steve Guttenberg hired Party Down to ring in his birthday, only his pals wound up throwing him a surprise bash the night before. The van's already there. The deposit's non-refundable. The food'll just be chucked in a dumpster otherwise. Guttenberg's dance card is free, it'd just be a waste to call the whole thing off, so he tells the Party Down crew to invite their friends and have their own little celebration at his mansion. The Gutte's many years of success have enabled him to appreciate the finer things in life -- art, obscure wines, glacier water -- and he shares some of his wisdom with the gang at Party Down. It looks like he could make another mint doing the whole self-help-guru routine since he winds up mentoring and encouraging everyone. It's the greatest example of one of Party Down's most noteworthy strengths: its ability to meld the characters with the comedy. The jokes aren't interchangeable -- they have to be coming outta these and only these mouths in particular -- and the episode winds up being kind of darkly depressing, howlingly funny, and insightful all at the same time. Its characters aren't the same at the end of the episode as they are at the outset, and unlike a standard issue sitcom, those changes remain for the rest of the series. If there was anything funnier on TV in the past year than Roman and his writing partner (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) suffering through a theater-style reading of their impenetrable hard-sci-fi screenplay about Godel spacetime fields and naked singularities and space-whores...well, I missed out. The entire season is incandescently brilliant from start to finish, but I'd seriously have bought this set even if there were nothing on it but "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday".
"So Lydia, you were saying before that you thought your daughter was gonna become a star."
"Oh, yes! My daughter is going to become a star."
"Success is a lifestyle you need to prepare for. You read in the tabloids every day: some schmuck hits it big and falls to pieces because he wasn't ready for success."
"Let's imagine: you make millions of dollars. What do you do?"
"::gasp!:: I have millions of dollars: I'd throw a big party and I'd buy some new shoes and Escapade loves horses, so we could probably get, like, a hundred...? Henry, Henry, Henry, what would you do with your millions of dollars? I'm floundering here."
"Wow. I dunno. Um, fleet of blimps?"
There really is a drive to flesh-out and advance these characters, and even though the premises for the catering gigs may be getting bigger and more cartoonish, Party Down doesn't lose sight of the people that make 'em tick. Most half-hour comedies can be clearly split up into the A plot and the B plot, but Party Down doesn't bother with that. One character's storyline rarely dominates, with pretty much everyone integral to every episode. This does make Party Down tough to review in the usual sense too because a quick plot summary can't cover it. Yeah, it's funny to say "failed orgy" or "aging, lonely sci-fi writer goes Hollywood and really, really wants to snort coke off a chick's tits", but the comedy and the drama don't come from the nuts and bolts of the stories, exactly. It's about seeing how its characters react...how they fumble their way through it all. That approach is quite a bit tougher to pull off, and Party Down never once misses the mark.
Wow! So this thing is getting kind of unreadably long, so I'll start sprinting towards the finish line. Like I mentioned a few paragraphs up, one of Party Down's greatest advantages is that it gets to swap out the supporting cast every episode. In fact, some of the plot threads for the one-and-done characters can be every bit as intriguing as what's going on with the Party Down crew themselves. The list of guest stars in season two includes oodles of comedians, among them Nat Faxon, Dave "Gruber" Allen, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Jimmi Simpson, Groundlings alums Andrea Savage and Rachael Harris, Human Giant's Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel, Danny Woodburn and Rick Hall from Seinfeld, Superbad's Aviva and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, The Upright Citizens Brigade's Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, Mad TV's Arden Myrin and Michael Hitchcock, along with The State's Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kenney. Oh yeah, and J.K. Simmons also returns for season two as hypervulgar movie producer Leonard Stiltson. The parade of Veronica Mars alums that was so much of a blast last season doesn't slow down with Michael Kostroff, Joey Lauren Adams, Steve Guttenberg, and Kristen Bell all putting in appearances. It may be one swing-and-a-miss after another for Ms. Bell at the box office, but damned if she isn't brilliant on TV. Jane Lynch, one of Party Down's hooks that most deeply embedded itself last season, is the centerpiece of what proved be the series finalé too.
"Oh, I don't like the term 'stage mom'. Escapade is my teammate!"
"Yeah, people used to yell at me all the time. 'Bill, let the kid have a childhood! No five-year-old needs to run tire drills in July!'"
"No seven year old needs to have permanent eyeliner tattooed on either, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea."
...but hey, like Robert Frost and New Found Glory once said, nothing gold can stay. Even before Party Down's second season was off the air, a couple of the leads had already committed to other TV shows, and the ratings were so catastrophically low that I guess there wasn't much motivation for Starz to roll the dice for another year. On one hand, yeah, it kinda stings. On the other...? Well, Party Down never had a chance to be anything other than brilliant. I haven't been this giddy and giggly about a live-action comedy in a few years now: not since Arrested Development went off the air and The Office lost its once-steady footing. I'm sad to see Party Down go, but I'll always ::sniffles!:: have my memories, not to mention a couple of two-disc DVD sets. Party Down also ends with what feels designed to be a series finalé too, and that ensures that the show gets a really strong send-off to boot.
I would've said that Party Down isn't like anything on TV, and...well, that's totally true, up to and including itself what with the cancellation and all. That may not be true for long, though. Creator Rob Thomas has a show in the works for NBC that sounds an awful lot like a rejiggered version of Party Down, only swapping out caterers for temps. The king is dead; long live the thing that sounds kind of like the king, if it gets picked up...? It's late. I'm out of analogies. You already know you're buying this DVD set, so I'll just say Highly Recommended and call it a night.
It's kinda disappointing to tune into a show in high-def and not be able to keep that streak running once it makes its way to home video, but that seems to be kind of a thing these days. Anyway, it's still great to have Party Down on a couple of shiny discs I can watch whenever I want, so I'm not complaining. It's pretty much the same deal as before. Party Down was shot natively on HD video, so the photography here is about as clean, crisp, and clear as you'd expect. Detail and clarity are both robust as well. I did notice some mosquito noise and light artifacting around edges, but it's not even a little bit of a big deal. The hiccups I spotted in the 2nd disc from the season one set didn't seem to creep in this time around either. I'm still keeping my fingers and other assorted things crossed for a Blu-ray release at some point down the road, but in the meantime...? I'm pretty happy with the way Party Down has turned out on DVD.
Oh, and a little more rambling technical stuff: all ten episodes from this second season of Party Down are presented in anamorphic widescreen at their broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Party Down dishes out another set of Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps) soundtracks for season numero two-oh. It's a pretty active mix too. Just because of the nature of the show, the surrounds are mostly atmospheric -- background chatter, clinking cutlery, and people generally just milling around -- and that lends it a reasonably nice sense of place. There are also some smooth, silky pans in the rear channels, like Ron's Camaro and a douchey insta-millionaire's SUV tearing across the screen, along with scattered effects like a post-hot-dog-eating-contest whoop. The shindigs being catered are sometimes blaring with thumping bass, and that gives the subwoofer plenty to work with here. Party Down's dialogue is very much the focal point, obviously, and it's balanced flawlessly in the mix. Some stretches do sound a little edgy and clipped, but that's tolerable, and every line is still consistently discernable throughout.
The only other audio options this season are subtitle streams in English (SDH) and Spanish.
So yeah, this won't take long. The extras this time around clock in under five minutes in total. First up is a promo reel that's kind of GQ frolicky type thing, and it runs for all of 48 seconds. There's also a pretty solid four minute gag reel: dropping a tray of booze, oodles of blown takes, Megan Mullally speaking tenderly to Thomas Lennon's asscheek, and...hey! Someone found a dildo.
As for the packaging...? No slipcover this season. There is another one of those floppy environmentally-friendly cases, though, and the two-disc set is the width of an ordinary DVD keepcase.
The Final Word
Ack. This last little block of text is supposed to quickly sum up the review, but I feel like I'm writing a eulogy instead. I'm kinda sad that Party Down is gone, sure, but at least it left behind an awfully pretty corpse. For the past couple of years, Party Down might've been the most singularly perfect comedy on TV and for my money the best since Arrested Development keeled over. The ensemble here is second-to-none, and its lean staff of writers had an immediate grasp on how to juggle its spectacular sense of humor in with all the misery and despair. It doesn't need some cartoonish high-concept to propel itself along. With just ten episodes a season, Party Down never overextended itself or overstayed its welcome either. I mean, there isn't a single sub-par episode anywhere in its entire run, and when was the last time I was able to say that about a comedy? The lack of extras this time around is a drag, sure, but Party Down is so absurdly rewatchable that it's well-worth buying on DVD too rather than just clicking a couple of times on Netflix. So, umm...are we having fun yet? Highly Recommended.
Oh, Yeah: The Image Disclaimer
The images scattered around this review are promotional stills from Starz and aren't snapped from the DVD itself. They're just to break up the long, long chunks of text, so don't think you can evaluate the DVD set with 'em or anything.