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The end of the first season of Party Down left some gaping holes in the staff of Party Down Catering as Jane Lynch and Ken Marino seemed to be leaving the show. Lynch, of course, found even higher stardom in the cast of Glee, but even at the time Marino’s Ron was obviously headed for failure in his “Soup and Crackers” enterprise. He naturally comes crawling back to the safest place he can, the catering company. Megan Mullally, though, ably replaces Lynch as a stage mom new to Los Angeles and looking to make her own little Miley Cyrus or whatever pop starlet is currently coasting the horribly manipulative “’tween” market.

While most of the peripheral cast remains status quo in the show, Adam Scott’s Henry and Lizzie Caplan’s Casey had a real relationship and career paths they were carving. I say were because the series has since been sadly canceled. Regardless, the slow burning tension of the second season reunion of Henry and Casey carries the show, giving it a sense of real time, something more than job to job. Perhaps the biggest underlying plot is the tease of Henry’s return to acting, including showing some footage of a film Scott did years ago. Henry’s metamorphosis plays out nicely with the revelation of his ties to arch rival Valhalla catering as well, in some great “showdown moments.”

Of particular quality this season were the episodes where the group parties with a very game Steve Guttenberg, who’s eager to help them all explore their career options, and is very free with his wine. Once you get past the “it’s really Steve Guttenberg!” factor, you can see how good he is in this role, as what I presume to be a parody of himself. It’s a great set up and very important to get Henry back on his feet as an actor, with some real quality Roman moments (including his previously unseen writing partner, Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse).

One of my other favorites is the catering of a theater’s opening night. The show has possibly it’s most fun with this one, having no mercy on a single theater trope, and turning it‘s guest stars completely loose. Perhaps it’s that this is Martin Starr’s best episode (maybe tied with Guttenberg) as the actors shower him with praise as a writer (though not a playwright, nor do the read anything by him) and a glorious Kerri Kenney-Silver and Rob Huebel get utterly blitzed with him. The way the whole script plays around the idea of a farce is perfectly followed through, right up to the big, masterfully done ending.

The worst part of the cancellation of Party Down is the groundwork that has gone into the show being now lost. These characters have so much more left to do and to say and to become. It’s really a shame that the show didn’t attract more viewers, but I actually have to admire Starz network for taking a chance on it in the first place. They likely thought they had the next Entourage on their hands, except that millions already subscribed to HBO when that started. Too bad the same wasn’t true for Party Down. 4 ½ stars


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