Party Down started its first season as a mostly episodic endeavor, with only a couple of ongoing narratives tying together the social events that the scrappy Party Down caterers half-ass their way through each week. The ongoing flirtation of washed-up never-was Henry (Adam Scott) and struggling comedian Casey (Lizzy Caplan), and the increasingly desperate attempts of hapless team leader Ron (Ken Marino) to open his own Soup-r-Crackers franchise were vague subplots in a workplace comedy initially focused more on the interactions and antics of its characters than their personal stories.
But somewhere around the midpoint of this 10-episode season, Party Down hit a sweet spot that expanded upon those subplots to the point where tonight’s season finale has enough genuine tension to carry the series into a second season—which, happily, Party Down has been picked up for. “Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception” would have functioned well enough as a series finale, but it’s much more satisfying to know that we’ll get to check back in with the employees of Party Down catering as they move on to their new endeavors.
Ron, Henry, and Casey each find themselves at a crossroads in tonight’s episode, staring down futures that hold varying degrees of bleakness. After spending the season rebounding from her divorce with Henry, in a relationship that neither seems emotionally prepared to put a label on, Casey decides to run away from all of it, signing on for a six-month stint doing stand-up on a cruise ship. She struggles with the decision, trying to frame it as a once-in-a-lifetime career move, but the way she says goodbye to a visibly crushed Henry—“I’m the worst, so you should be with a better person than me,”—indicates that she may have just been looking for an easy way out. Henry, who’s just gotten comfortable with the idea of spinning his wheels with Casey in a go-nowhere job, suddenly finds himself without his dream (for now) woman and with a whole new batch of menial responsibility as he moves in to Ron’s position as team leader for Party Down. That position is offered to him by company owner Alan Duk, who has enlisted Ron to manage the Soup-r-Crackers he just purchased—a dream come true for Ron, except for the fact that he seems to have begun a serious backslide into the hard-drinking depressive he was before Party Down came into his life.
These developments have been building up over the past few episodes, and while it’s great to get a little more depth to these three characters, it’s come at the expense of the rest of the cast, who have moved into the background somewhat. Hell, Jane Lynch—a delightful, if somewhat broad, highlight of the show—went completely MIA the last two episodes (presumably to fulfill her Glee obligations), replaced with the always-welcome Jennifer Coolidge as Constance’s roommate Bobbi St. Brown. Coolidge’s shrooming was definitely the comedic high point of this episode (“No, those are sun eggs!”), but it would be a shame if this proves to be the end of Lynch’s run on the show. (She’s the only cast member who’s still up in the air, depending on how Glee pans out.) Roman (Martin Starr) and Kyle (Ryan Hansen) were mostly separated tonight, which is too bad, as their odd-couple bickering has been second only to Constance’s self-delusion in the laughs department this season. Roman’s pestering of wedding guest George Takei (as himself) was funny enough, but his Comic Book Guy-esque exasperation and Kyle’s frat-boy himbo-isms work better together than apart.
Then, of course, there was guest star Kristen Bell, closing out the season-long Veronica Mars reunion. Remember, the two series share an executive producer (Rob Thomas), a writer (John Enborn), and a couple of cast members (Marino and Hansen), and Thomas has called upon a host of familiar V.Mars faces (including, but not limited to, Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, and Ed Begley Jr.) to guest star on Party Down. Bell’s (relatively) high-profile appearance was a logical way to close out the season, and she turned in a characteristically likable performance as Uda, the incredibly unlikable, headset-wearing leader of rival catering firm Valhalla. Bell turned the bitchiness up to 11 in this episode, but totally sold it (“Well this isn’t fucking baseball, Weaselface, it’s catering!”), and the ongoing gag where she would glaze over mid-conversation in response to her headset was delightfully weird.
It’ll be interesting to see how Party Down grows into its second season. Will the series continue to move down the narrative paths it laid out this season, or will we get a “reset” where we move six months into the future and everyone’s various endeavors have landed them right back where they started? Quite frankly, I’d be pleased with either option, provided the writing and comedic performances stay as solid as they were this season, but I hope for more character development beyond the Ron-Henry-Casey axis. And I know it’s probably wishful thinking given Kristen Bell’s ascent up the Hollywood ladder, but I’d love to see her mechanical flirtation from tonight’s epilogue lead to a Casey-Henry-Uda love triangle. Regardless, Party Down will definitely get a weekly consideration here at T.V. Club when it returns.
Grade: B+ (episode) / A- (series)
• “Don’t be such a homophobe. There’s nothing gay about a gay wedding.” “I just wanted to feel what it would feel like over here.” “I’m in a purple tube of consciousness!” Jennifer Coolidge was on fire tonight. I almost didn’t miss Jane Lynch. Almost.
• Sorry we didn’t cover the season weekly. Let’s make up for it now: Favorite episodes/moments? Go nuts in the comments.
• Just out of curiosity, how did y’all watch Party Down? On Starz when it aired? Online? Via Netflix streaming? I’m still not sure exactly when is the official time slot for the show, as it seems to première on these three outlets at various points throughout the weekend.