Pay cable movie channel Starz has been following in the footsteps of HBO and Showtime, introducing a slate of original, hour-long dramas (“Crash,” “Spartacus: Blood and Sand”) and half-hour comedies (“Gravity,” “Head Case”). Last week, Starz launched the second season of its successful sitcom “Party Down.” That, my friends, is a good thing.
The network has already demonstrated a taste for winking Hollywood references. (Ralph Macchio, Alanis Morissette, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Nealon and Jeff Probst have all appeared as their own nutty selves on the entertainment psychologist sitcom “Head Case.”) “Party Down” strips the Hollywood connection back a level, concentrating on a group of wannabe stars stuck working as waiters for an L.A.-based catering company. Actors struggling to get a name for themselves while working as waiters and waitresses is a Hollywood cliché for a very good reason: It’s true. Actor Paul Rudd (Role Models) is one of the show’s creators and probably knows the territory.
Though the show features a tight ensemble cast, our main working stiff is Henry (Adam Scott, Knocked Up). This season, he’s all but given up acting now that he’s been promoted to manager and is stuck baby-sitting a group of employees who don’t give “one one-millionth of a shit.” Having failed at his all-you-can-eat salad restaurant, success-chasing former supervisor Ron (Ken Marino, “Reaper”) is back dishing up brunch buffets. Fresh from her stint doing standup on a cruise ship, Casey (Lizzy Caplan, “True Blood”) is still hoping to land her own sitcom. Actor / model / indie rocker Kyle (Ryan Hansen, “Veronica Mars”) is handsome, talented and on the verge of being a star—at least in his own mind. Intellectual writer and “sci-fi visionary” Roman (Martin Starr, the unforgettable nerd Bill Haverchuck on “Freaks and Geeks”) is still waiting for the world to see his genius. Sadly, original cast member Jane Lynch took off to devote more time to “Glee.” But she’s been ably replaced by “Will & Grace” star Megan Mullally as the newest member of the staff, Lydia, a recently divorced stage-mother who’s in L.A. chasing stardom for her 13-year-old daughter, Escapade.
Each week, the cast deals with various party situations, most of which only serve to remind them how low on the Hollywood totem pole they actually are. One week, they might be catering a porn industry awards show. The next, they may be dishing up lasagna at Steve Guttenberg’s birthday. Mostly, though, they spend their time complaining, insulting each other and basically hating life.
“Party Down” has a somewhat nasty vibe, similar to FX’s brutally comic sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” These aren’t the nicest, happiest people. Perhaps, in everyday life, they’re charmers. But on “Party Down,” we never see them off the job—serving drinks and appetizers to the exact sort of people they aspire to be. Anyone who’s ever worked a crappy job for a lousy paycheck can more than sympathize.