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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Party Down – “Jackal Onassis Backstage Party”

Not give a shit, like a human being.”

Party Down is a show that I only know from Netflix Watch Instantly. I don’t get Starz ( orany premium cable for that matter), so I didn’t find out about the show until last winter when I mainlined the series. At first I wasn’t keen on the show, but about four episodes in the show and I found each other, and I can feel very confident in declaring it a brilliant comedy series that needs more and more eyeballs watching it.

To introduce the show, since I’m sure a few of you may not be watching it (yet), I’ll simply say it deals with the trials and tribulations of a group of catering service employees, all of whom have grander dreams than to serve little sandwiches at really weird functions (ranging from a botched sweet 16 party to a celebration of a Russian mobster). Each episode finds the cast in a new situation, so functions as a workplace comedy with an ever changing workplace.

But the show is also a squirm comedy, like Curb Your Enthusiasm (though not nearly as squirm-inducing). It’s happy to take apart social mores, but more with a sly wink than a pregnant linger like Curb. It’s a show that’s funny and heart breaking, with sublime writing and stellar acting. You need to be watching it.

Sadly, this episode back isn’t as fine as some of the later ones from season one. I chalk this up to two things. Issue number one is the need to resolve last season’s semi-cliffhanger of Henry assuming leadership of the crew after Ron leaves to run a Super Cracker (a soup and salad place). Additionally, the show must also tie up the awkward loose end of Henry and Casey’s tattered relationship after she quits the catering gig to do stand-up on a cruise line. While the show thrives on awkwardness, the Henry/Casey relationship veers more toward tedium in the episode than much else, so it’s a struggle to remain interested. Hopefully this improves as the season progresses, and I feel confident that it will.

Issues number two is Megan Mullally as Lydia. Toward the end of season 1, Jane Lynch left to go do Glee and so her spot needed to be filled. For the last two episodes, the insufferable Jennifer Coolidge filled in for Lynch, and I was thrilled that she wasn’t returning for season 2. Mullally, however, feels disconnected from much of the cast. Indeed, they seem to want very little to do with her, and her character, Lydia, never totally clicks with anyone. Her interactions with Kyle lack the same supportive mother/significantly older sister/significantly older cousin vibe that sparked much of the humor between Kyle and Lynch’s Constance.

But the episode is not a total loss. As nearly always, the guest actor in an episode manages to garner the biggest laughs. Jimmi Simpson’s turn as the titular goth rocker who longs for a normal life should be tired, but he manages to bring his sharp timing to the role and really make it fresh. His time as “Dennis the new guy behind the bar” allows for quick drop in lines and his facial dead-panning to play to a tee. Indeed, Simpson would be an ideal choice to replace any of the cast members moving on to other projects after this season. Maybe we can have drop his goth act and join the Party Down crew.

Tied up in Simpson’s story is Roman, who takes Jackal’s place at the party in an effort to get laid. Now, the Roman is desperate for sex storyline should be equally played out, as should Jackal’s advice to remain aloof to get women (Kyle told Roman a similar thing back in season 1). Having Roman dressed in full Jackal attire and continue to strike out is wildly funny. Even funnier is his inability to not sign his own name when finally given the chance hook up with a girl.

So even though the “Jackal Onassis Backstage Party” is a bit of a minor affair, you need to keep watching. It can only get better from here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Line of the evening goes to Ron: “Bad economy, what do you think of? Soup kitchens, bread lines, all you can eat salad!”
  • I’m eager to see how Henry develops this season. That Jackal’s manager didn’t recognize Henry from his “Are we having fun yet?” beer commercial, commenting that he simply looks like him, is a sign that the brief fame that ruined his career may be fading as well. It could be an exciting arc for the character.
  • Please, Ron, get a haircut.
  • You can watch Party Down on Netflix Watch Instantly (that I linked to above) or catch 4 episodes (including 2 faves from S1) on the Starz Website.

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