"Jackal Onassis Backstage Party" S2 / E1
- B+ Community Grade
The second season of Party Down premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on Starz, but the first two episodes are already streaming on the Starz website, so let's get a head start, shall we? (If you haven't watched yet, be warned: Here be spoilers.)
Perhaps by design, Party Down’s premise is a modular one, not tied to one setting or scenario and burdened by very few ongoing plotlines. Because of that, the introduction of new characters and exit of old ones isn’t particularly strained—in fact, given the high turnover rates throughout the service industry, it’s actually fairly authentic. This quality might be tested should the series get picked up for a third season, given that Adam Scott, Lizzie Caplan, and Ryan Hanson will have all moved on to other gigs at that point, but so far, Party Down has fared well through the occasional shuffling.
When Jane Lynch had to bail toward the end of season one to go work on Glee, Jennifer Coolidge acting as her replacement was less a glaring Band-Aid of a quick fix and more a delightful new facet of the PD universe. Same goes for Megan Mullally, who steps into the vacancy this season with nary a stumble. Lydia’s delusional optimism is similar enough to Constance’s that the character can hit a lot of the same comedic beats, but her thinly veiled resentment and panic over being a newly single stage mother (to the singing, dancing, acting, comedy-ing Escapade) should make for some fun new interactions, particularly as she’s already projected a whole bunch of pity and camaraderie onto her confused new BFF, Casey.
Another major change: In the nine months since we last partied down—ugh, sorry, I promise I’ll never do that again—Henry has ascended to team leader following Ron’s departure to live out his Soup-r-Crackers dreams. The new role fits him about as well as his cheap white button-down, as he grits his teeth while pleading with his employees to at least “go through the motions of a job and pretend it matters.” He’s also dating rival caterer Uda (the offscreen Kristin Bell, who will appear in one episode later in the season), a fact he originally conceals from Casey—back from her happily stomach-virus-free cruise gig—as they awkwardly navigate the post-hookup waters.
So how best to bring these characters back together and establish their new relationships as we head into the second season? Through a hoary old plot device that’s too hackneyed by half, yet surprisingly works—kind of. “Jackal Onassis Backstage Party” pulls out the ol’ Prince And The Pauper premise, introducing a famous rockstar—some sort of Marilyn Manson/Lady Gaga hybrid best I can tell—who hates his “fake life” and craves the “real” experience of working for a ragtag catering company. Played by the creepily funny Jimmi Simpson (Liam McPoyle to you It’s Always Sunny fans), Jackal functions as an audience surrogate, an outsider trying to suss out the interactions of his temporary co-workers. It’s a pretty handy method for playing catch-up, and the fact that Simpson can handily toss out obnoxiously hilarious lines like, “I'm a bartender nobody. How awesome is that? This is really fun!” makes it a funny one as well.
However, the pauper half of the equation was a little rougher. I know the image of Roman dressed up in full Jackal regalia was supposed to be a hilarious reveal, but it had an unappealingly cartoon-y air about it. While it’s always great to see Roman in a state of apoplectic frustration, particularly as Kyle manages to cockblock him even in the guise of a famous rock star, putting Martin Starr in a codpiece and fright wig just seemed a tad easy, and not really in keeping with the subdued tone of the show. Although his aggravated insistence that he has “total contempt for these dumb bitches,” (but still wants to fuck them, natch) was certainly true to character, and his dumb slip-up of signing his own name on the tits and vajay of Ron’s groupie Ladyfriend did result in Ron getting Tazed, so it wasn’t all bad. Thankfully, the real Jackal Onassis—excuse me, Arnold Shearling—is there to fall on the sword, simultaneously saving Henry from the fallout from the stunt and getting the totally awesome experience of getting fired. Back to his gilded cage to watch The Mentalist with some “damaged-looking sluts.”
While it was fun to spend some time in Bizzarro Party Down land, we’re all in agreement that this new hierarchy isn’t going to last long, right? The episode’s coda telegraphed that pretty blatantly by having Ron ask Henry to look into getting his old position back, since Ladyfriend is bleeding him dry. (Turns out that people don’t want to be reminded of bread lines and soup kitchens in this economy.) Henry is clearly having a hard time acting like he gives one-one-millionth of a shit about his new responsibilities—I wonder if Uda plays into his feigned ambition at all—and him being Casey’s boss adds another layer of awkwardness to their already awkward relationship. I expect him to be back behind the bar sneaking shots soon enough, and things will be pretty much back to how they were. And that’s the way of the service-industry lifestyle: People come and go, but the drudgery stays the same.
• “Salad, study the Hannah Montanas, and bed.”
• Kyle is about to “bump up to B list,” so he has new headshots of himself in a unisex chemise.
• Party Down continues its parade of character actors with Danny Woodburn as the fired employee whom Casey is brought in to replace, and Michael Kostroff as the lackey demanding Jackal’s five-sided, five-layered sandwiches. (He’s a practicing Satanist you know, the number five is very important to him.)
• Lydia immediately starts talking to Casey as if she were her psychologist… or as her ex would say, a “Jewfaggot.”
• “Consider the shit shot.”
• “Pinching pennies, I never would have thought about that, man. That is fucking adorable.”
• “Not the sign!”
And a couple of housekeeping notes:
• Yes, I will be covering Party Down all season. Whoo! Are we having fun yet? The first five episodes are on the Starz media site, so I’ll be able to write those ahead of time and get them up immediately following the episode, but once I start watching in real time, chances are good these reviews will go up Saturday morning.
• In case you’re not already aware: All new episodes of Party Down are available via Netflix instant viewing immediately after they air on Starz. So keep up!