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Sunday, September 19, 2010

PARTY DOWN: SEASON TWO -- DVD review by porfle

Hollywood--the land of broken dreams, where starry-eyed hopefuls struggle for that ever-elusive chance at fame.  A precious few realize their dreams and become stars.  The rest become caterers.  PARTY DOWN: SEASON TWO is their story.

I missed the first season of this Starz comedy series, so the first episode was a little rough going for me.  But it doesn't take long to catch on and warm up to these characters and their interactions.  Henry Pollard (a deadpan Adam Scott), who has given up on acting after a few bit parts and commercials, has been promoted to team leader and is having trouble handling the responsibilities and keeping his lackadasical crew in line.  He's replacing Ron Donald (Ken Marino), who left for an unsuccessful five-month run as manager of a soup restaurant and returns to the group as a disillusioned drone.  Ron's a by-the-book company man whose ambitions to rise within the "Party Down" corporate ranks are hampered by both his emotional instability and his inherent goofiness.

Henry's former girlfriend, struggling actress-comedienne Casey (Lizzy Caplan), spends more time on the phone with her agent than working.  Their relationship will begin to heat up again although Henry is currently dating Uda Bengt (Kristin Bell), the uber-efficient boss of a rival catering company.  Kyle (Ryan Hansen) is a pretty-boy doofus trying to break into the Hollywood B-List while stuck in DTV hell, and Roman (Martin Starr) is a functioning nerd who writes "hard sci-fi" screenplays that are unproduceable.

Last but not least, Megan Mullally ("Will & Grace") plays Lydia, a ditzy divorcee and stage mom to her sullen 13-year-old daughter, Escapade.  Mullally plays Lydia's perky optimism and ultra-clueless naivete to a tee and adds comic zing to every scene that she's in.  Lydia's constantly on the prowl for an available man to hook up with, even if he's a stiff-assed estate lawyer hosting a dreadfully unsuccessful "orgy" to celebrate his divorce. 

"Party Down" is done in the same documentary style as "Curb Your Enthusiasm" but lacks both that show's concentrated hilarity and the comic giddiness of a "Seinfeld."  Still, this low-key show is fun and easy to watch.  The comedy develops naturally out of the situations, as a variety of settings keeps things fresh and generates a new comic energy with each episode.

This is especially true when the gang caters the New Age wedding of former member Constance Carmell (the brilliant Jane Lynch, A MIGHTY WIND, BEST IN SHOW) as she prepares to marry an aging movie producer played by the great Alex Rocco (THE GODFATHER's "Moe Green").  The predominantly Jewish assemblage is aghast when Kyle's emo band performs a song whose lyrics are misconstrued as grossly anti-Semitic ("Holo-what?" Kyle asks when Constance stops him mid-song.) 

In another episode, guest star Steve Guttenberg must cancel his party at the last minute but then invites the gang and their friends into his mansion anyway for a day of fun and games.  With so many aspiring actors on hand, Steve directs an impromptu reading of one of Roman's awful sci-fi scripts.  Later, Henry and Casey are on the verge of rekindling their romance in the jacuzzi when a naked Steve hops in, followed by everyone else. 

While catering an after-party for a community theater group, a series of romantic miscommunications between the actors and the Party Down crew results in complications that mirror the kind of old-style farce that's just been performed onstage.  (It's funnier than it sounds.)  The Party Down company picnic forms the backdrop for another episode that's filled with amusing subplots, and you can pretty much guess how things go when this bunch caters a funeral.  As in every episode of this series, some gags are flat, some simmer for awhile before yielding a modest payoff, and occasionally there's a genuine belly-laugh or two.  For me, "Cole Landry's Draft Day Party" is howlingly funny from start to finish.

The 2-disc, 10-episode DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Surround 5.1 and English and Spanish subtitles. Special features include a gag reel and a short promo.

Not quite a blockbuster comedy, PARTY DOWN: SEASON TWO is good fun, with a talented cast, likable characters, and an easygoing atmosphere.  I've already watched it twice, and now I'm eager to check out season one. 

Buy it at

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