Last fall, as networks talked about reviving, reuniting, or otherwise reanimating their most famous shows, a rallying cry that was at least three quarters serious could be heard all over the internet. As New York Times critic Margaret Lyons tweeted once: “Reboot ‘Party Down.’ Then we can talk.” The show inspires rabble-rousing, to put it mildly. Party Down—a patheti-comic half-hour gem and one of Starz’s first original series—followed a catering company in Los Angeles staffed by Hollywood aspirants and adjacents fueled by delusion, self-loathing, or a piquant combination of the two as they struggled toward the day they wouldn’t need those shitty jobs anymore. The show captured what it is to fail at your lifelong dream, tapping into what showrunner John Enbom calls the “slightly uneasy feeling” of being stuck in a humiliating plan B. It was poignant and hilarious.
And Party Down itself was a wannabe. The original pilot was shot in cocreator Rob Thomas’s house, the actors were paid $100 a day, and the series had netted tremendously few viewers when it ended in 2010. “It was a funny go-around the first time,” says Enbom. “I don’t think I’d met somebody who had seen it until the first series was over.” In the intervening decade, the show has become a cult hit, partly because much of the cast shot to fame on other shows. Jane Lynch brought her sly wickedness to Glee, Adam Scott his sarcastic tenderness to Parks and Recreation. Lizzy Caplan and Martin Starr, also veterans of Freaks and Geeks, did guest arcs and appearances all over before landing regular roles on prestige cable. And Ken Marino has become a comedy fixture with Fresh Off the Boat, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Black Monday, and my personal favorite, The Other Two. Even a pre-notoriety Stormy Daniels is in Party Down, professionally assessing Marino’s penis.
Some sort of reunion has been discussed for years, including the dream of a Party Down movie. This spring, Starz—now a programming powerhouse—greenlighted a six-part limited series in the hopes of charting where the hapless hopefuls are now. But how do you revive a show that so thoroughly embodies being on the cusp of success now that it is itself a success?
Enbom, who will serve once again as the primary writer, is being joined by all his fellow cocreators for the revival, including Thomas, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd, who was originally going to play the Adam Scott role. As of this writing, the cast hasn’t announced that they will return, though all have called Party Down one of their favorite jobs ever. It seems almost preordained that, when the time comes, our favorite caterers will roll up to an event only to discover that it’s a party fêting one of their former coworkers. No matter what, the show should wring dark comedy out of all the new ways we have of becoming famous and humiliating ourselves. “Our main characters are now 10 years older and have lived those 10 years in the same world that we have,” says Enbom. The door could open on an award-winning actor and comedian—or a gun-toting QAnon YouTuber.
Now that viral fame is more accessible than ever, Party Down’s refreshing lack of illusions seems prescient. Henry (Scott) and Casey (Caplan) fell for each other in one of the sweetest, sexiest onscreen romances in memory; then she left him in front of everyone for a comedy gig on a cruise ship. The industry makes fools out of all of them, which is to say, all of us. The characters were lovable—and driven to terrible behavior in their pursuit of attention. We need Party Down back, if only to show us how to laugh at the creatures we’ve become.
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