Party Down season 3 premieres on Starz on February 24.
Reboots and revivals are common, though all too often they’re clearly a cynical cash grab or an attempt to reignite magic that no longer exists. To my great relief, the long-awaited Party Down third season turns out to be neither of these things. It has been nearly 13 years since the last episode aired on Starz to dismal ratings, and yet the beloved cult comedy is firing on all cylinders in its return. This new batch of six episodes isn’t an exercise in rose-tinted nostalgia.
Part of the innate charm and endless humorous scenarios comes from a premise that remains perfectly simple: each episode takes place at a different event catered by the Party Down team, led by Ron Donald (Ken Marino). As with the original 20-episode run, these vary from Hollywood soirees to mundane shindigs hosted by non-industry people. But even the most boring theme becomes a playground for mishaps and misunderstandings that undoubtedly impacts customer satisfaction and deliver laughs. It doesn’t help that most of Ron’s team of cater-waiters want to crack into showbiz – whether in a performing or creative capacity – and enthusiasm for their current job is low. Ron’s vested interest has always been a staple part of the dynamic, and his desperation to succeed in the food service industry being at odds with everyone else has not got tired since we last saw these characters.
Party Down Season 3 Photos
Party Down co-creator and now showrunner John Enbom has not messed with this winning formula, but this revival isn’t simply retreading steps taken more than a decade ago as fan service. The Los Angeles setting still offers a slice of hopes and dreams that can quickly become humiliating – but no less hilarious.
While I can’t get into the specifics regarding how everyone fits into this updated version of the service industry squad for spoiler reasons, let’s just say that some professional and personal setbacks have made it necessary. Henry’s (Adam Scott) motive for wearing the crisp white button-down shirt and pink bow tie uniform fit the path previously laid out, and suffice it to say, he is not having fun yet. “This is not how I envisioned my 40s,” he dryly observes. The beer commercial that made Henry so recognizable in the first two seasons is still referenced and is one instance of how deftly the series deals with various levels of fame.
The gags about working in this environment still resonate.
To back up for a second, I came to Party Down fandom after the fact. Considering only 74,000 people watched the Season 2 finale live when it first aired (no, really), it won’t come as much of a surprise that I wasn’t one of those viewers. Like many, it was through recommendations that I found this show and quickly fell in love less than a year after its cancellation, tragically too late to have helped save it with my eyeballs. One of the reasons why Party Down resonated with was the relatability of this workplace; I often put an episode on when I got home in the early morning hours after a particularly terrible shift in my own service industry job. Even now, I will happily rewatch the limited number of episodes they originally put out, and I was equally nervous and excited when I pressed play on the new episodes. Would this revival be a big letdown, like so many others have been? But I soon exhaled my baited breath: while my circumstances have since changed for the better, the gags about working in this environment still resonate.
Not every character has been hustling while working this job while they were off our screens, and the first episode is quick to fill in the gaps without falling into the dry exposition trap. Returning cast members include movie star hopeful Kyle (Ryan Hansen), wannabe hard sci-fi screenwriter Roman (Martin Starr), and “momager” Lydia (Megan Mullally). Jane Lynch is also back as eternal optimist Constance, whose wedding to a wealthy, aging studio mogul provided the event in the Season 2 finale. One person whose absence has already been announced is Lizzy Caplan (who had a scheduling conflict) as the deadpan Casey Klein, and though Caplan’s absence is certainly felt, the backstory wisely leaves room for her to return at a later date – and it also makes sense that not everyone would be back in the orbit of the catering firm they don’t want to be at.
The gang has grown up, moved on, and in some cases, gone backward. Luckily, there is almost always a need for cater-waiters, so Party Down hasn’t become obsolete in the interim and isn’t trying to shoehorn this premise into a landscape that no longer exists. The gig economy and side hustles, more than ever, have exploded. Ambitions ebb and flow, as with each glimmer of an opportunity comes crushing rejection and both are keenly felt. Having to “sling d’oeuvres” to the rich and famous while knowing your dreams have yet to be realized is a contrast the writers effectively mine for comedy gold while also adding to the emotional stakes. Even those who gave up the acting ghost a long time ago can get sucked back in, and being in a successful orbit can scratch that particular itch.
It is a role that showcases Garner’s comedic chops and romantic chemistry, and she slots effortlessly into this series.
Jennifer Garner joins the cast as movie producer Evie, who serves as a new love interest while offering a potential career escape hatch. Adding new faces ensures freshness to the storylines, and Garner immediately charms as the successful outsider. It is a role that showcases Garner’s comedic chops and romantic chemistry, and she slots effortlessly into this series.
Party Down is also branching out on its culinary options with Zoë Chao playing intense avant-garde chef Lucy, who is unwilling to serve the kind of food Ron wants. Plus, Tyrel Jackson Williams offers a taste of content maker Saxon, showcasing a 2020s path to stardom now that the TikTok audience is a consideration. The tension and camaraderie between Gen Z Saxon and the older servers offer multiple laugh-out-loud moments that underscore how the Party Down creative team considers the current landscape. In the past, Ron would scold his staff for using their phones while on shift, but a lot has changed since Casey had her flip phone glued to her hand. Now he has to stop the employees from using the party locations as a backdrop for social media, which is a smart update to the previous running joke.
One of Ron’s perpetual threats was to give out an RDD (a demerit in an arbitrary point system), a punishment with very few real-world consequences, and fans of the original series will be glad to know these long-running references are still in play. Walking the line between welcoming a new audience and rewarding those viewers who laid the groundwork for this return is not easy, but there is enough material to keep everyone entertained without having to explain previous recurring gags like this one.
Part of the thrill of each episode is waiting for mishaps to strike, which it inevitably does. Despite his best intentions, Ron can often be found at the center of the chaos. His tendency to experience physical pain or embarrassment leads to laughs and winces, and Marino rises to the occasion once more. There is no weak link in the regular cast and no runaway standout, but Marino takes it to the next level in his ability to paint Ron in every shade of desperation. His good nature and misfortune make Party Down’s most loyal employee a tragic-comic figure for the ages.
Whereas Marino is masterful in his dedication to nailing uncomfortable humor, Scott’s Henry is the straight man trying to get through his shift with minimal disruption or effort. That isn’t to say he doesn’t also experience some cringeworthy moments (a hairstyle in one episode is a gift that keeps on giving), and each Party Down regular gets to experience ups and downs. Healthy competition remains a fixture between Roman and Kyle, who immediately revert to their old dynamic. Comfort is derived from the ease at which people slip back into place, and this revival expertly tips its hat to the past while adding new ingredients to the mix.
Party Down creators Rob Thomas, Paul Rudd, Dan Etheridge, and Enbom conceived a format that plays directly into introducing an array of guest stars that further adds to the unfolding farce. James Marsden plays a charismatic celebrity, which doesn’t sound like a stretch, but he once again proves how adept he is at comedy while being game to make fun of himself. Mullally’s husband, Nick Offerman, is also on hand to play an unlikeable figure, and recent Emmy winner Quinta Brunson stops by for a memorable appearance.
I belly-laughed so much through the five episodes (of a total of six in the season) that my sides hurt. So many recent comedies have opted for emotional and darker material – which is excellent when done well, such as Adam Scott’s turn in Severance – but having a workplace sitcom with a high laugh-to-minutes ratio is thrilling. Still, stakes do exist, and the future of several Hollywood careers is at a crossroads, leaving me itching to watch the season finale. The one main issue with this season is how short it is, but that is a mild quibble when it feels lucky to have another go-around with this special series of any length – no need to ask if we are having fun yet, as the episodes speak for themselves.
Bringing a beloved series back after more than a decade away is no easy prospect, and often the updated episodes fail to live up to the beloved original run. Somewhat miraculously, the Party Down team has avoided those pitfalls by crafting a scenario that speaks to the brilliance of this workplace comedy, all while giving characters space to grow and change. New cast members keep things fresh, and guest stars like James Marsden are game for whatever is thrown at them. Minor drawbacks include Lizzy Caplan’s absence and the short, six-episode season feeling all too brief. Naturally, you won’t catch all the references if you haven’t seen the original show, but there is a balance between recurring and current jokes that won’t alienate those who jump in here to watch for the first time.