There were so many must-see shows that cropped up in the era of Peak TV that the average viewer couldn’t possibly have caught them all. And sure, prestige shows like Breaking Bad and Battlestar Galactica and The Wire may be worth prioritizing. But what if you need a bit of a break from the heavy-hitting dramas and just want to relax in a pleasant kind of purgatory for a week or two? That’s what Party Down is for, and there’s never been a better time to watch (or rewatch) the misadventures of some down-on-their-luck Los Angeles caterers.
Party Down follows a catering company from one gig to the next. It’s a decent concept to start, but the ensemble makes this show shine. Adam Scott plays Henry Pollard, the company’s bartender and a former actor whose single line of dialogue in a beer commercial (“Are we having fun yet?!”) tanked his career.
He serves as the straight man to Ron Donald (Ken Marino), the overly enthusiastic team lead. Ron dreams of big-time success in the food service industry, but to everyone else on the team—aspiring actors Casey (Lizzy Caplan) and Kyle (Ryan Hansen), pseudo-intellectual writer Roman (Martin Starr), former starlet Constance (Jane Lynch), and Lydia (Megan Mullally), who moves to LA in order to boost her daughter’s acting career and takes Constance’s place on the team—this is nothing but a temporary gig on the way to stardom. (Well, except for Constance, who achieves the similarly lofty goal of marrying a millionaire.)
In addition to the embarrassment of comedic riches that is the main cast, J.K. Simmons, Kristen Bell, and Ken Jeong pop up in supporting roles. Even if the scripts were stale, a group like this could make it work. But they’re far from it. Every episode is penned by one or more of the series’ co-creators (including Rob Thomas of Veronica Mars fame and the inimitable Paul Rudd), with TV comedy vets Fred Savage or Bryan Gordon directing the bulk of them. The comedic timing is all but unparalleled, and the jokes range from pleasantly dry to downright outlandish.
At two seasons, Party Down is an easily bingeable show. But, unlike a series with constant cliffhangers and heavily serialized storytelling, it can be watched at a leisurely pace. Actually, aside from occasional cringe humor (and it can get rough here and there, given just how bumbling Ron can be), it’s one of the least stressful shows in recent history.
As a viewer, you’re rooting for Henry to follow his dreams, for Casey to land a role in a Judd Apatow project, and for Roman to get a book deal for his high-falutin hard sci-fi novel. But you’re not desperate to see them succeed since, in the meantime, you get to watch them serve food and drinks to Young Republicans, senior singles, and, on one memorable occasion, Steve Guttenberg. (“Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” is a singularly wonderful episode. If you’re not going to watch the whole series, at least drop in on that one.)
Media has always been an excellent means of escapism, but right now, some shows—the ones that feature a brighter world or a fantastical landscape or just plain unadulterated joy —almost feel like they’re teasing us. That’s never going to be the case with Party Down, a show about what happens in between the moment you realize what you want to do with your life and when you finally achieve that goal. It’s always had a relatable premise, and that rings truer now than ever before. Are you having fun yet? Probably not. But once you immerse yourself in the in-between of Party Down, you will be.