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Party Down: Season One (2009)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 4/6/2010

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/26/2010

On the whole, I consider myself to be an optimist, but there are some things which I just assume won't happen. So, I assumed that I would never see anything new in sitcoms. Let's face it, if any genre has been done to death, it's the sitcom. My kids have started watching some of the Nickelodeon and Disney Channel "comedies" and I keep telling them that most everything that they are seeing can be traced back to Three's Company. Therefore, imagine my surprise when Party Down offered something slightly unique. Slightly may not seem like much, but at this point, I'll take it.

Party Down is not only the name of the show, it's the name of the catering company around which the show centers. Ron Donald (Ken Marino), a former partyer who is now on the straight-and-narrow, is the supervisor of a group of rag-tag waiters and waitresses who would rather be doing anything else. Henry Pollard (Adam Scott), the newest addition to the team, is a washed-up actor and pitchman who doesn't know what he wants to do with his life. Kyle Bradway (Ryan Hansen), is a handsome, but dimwitted struggling actor. Roman DeBeers (Martin Starr) is a cynical and bitter writer of hardcore science-fiction (not fantasy!), who hopes to have a screenplay produced. Constance Carmell (Jane Lynch) is a veteran second-tier actress who seems to have put show-business behind her. Casey Klein (Lizzy Caplan) is a stand-up comedian who is hoping to land a TV show. Despite the fact that they all have other aspirations, these people begrudgingly come to work and drive the anal-retentive Ron crazy. Ron wants everyone to stay in line so that the owner of Party Down will join him in investing in a restaurant chain.

At this point, you're thinking, "How is this different from other shows? Wasn't this called It's a Living in the 80s?" The difference here is the show's format. We only see the characters when they are at work and then, it's only for one night at a time. Each episode occurs during a specific function (class reunion, birthday party, wedding, etc.) at which the group is working. So, we only see them at work and only for a brief amount of time. Thus, we never see them at home or pursuing their other jobs.

This approach sets up one of the shows central conceits -- as we are seeing them at work, the characters are supposed to act professional, but other than Ron, none of them really care enough about the job to do so. This is where we get into the real meat of the show. Instead of working as they should, Roman and Kyle get into ridiculous arguments about movies and women, Casey is always on the phone with her agent trying to line up a gig, and Constance is reminiscing about some movie that she did 20 years ago. In addition to this, we also see the group interact with the guests. Again, they are supposed to be professional and not mingle, but that never stops this crowd. Constance, a naturally extroverted person, always gets involved with some amongst the guests, Ryan flirts with the ladies, and Henry's mood is shattered when someone recognizes him. During all of this, Ron is running around trying to maintain order.

Party Down works due to all of the talent involved. The show was co-created by Rob Thomas, who brought us Veronica Mars and actor Paul Rudd (along with John Enbom and Dan Etheridge). Thomas brings his penchant for damaged characters to the table, while the kind of dry, sarcastic humor which Rudd clearly loves is present. While this creative team is impressive, the show's actors are its true strength. This may be one of the best ensemble casts working on TV right now and everyone is pitch-perfect in their roles. It's a shame that Lynch is AWOL for the last two episodes, as I assume that she had moved on to Glee.

We've seen many TV series spring up from the cable channels over the years, and most, even the fluffiest of comedies, seem to use their "no limits" status to bring a certain amount of drama to the show. You won't find that with Party Down. Even when it looks as if the show is going to get serious, it swerves back into comedy territory. The humor is fairly constant here, with a mixture of one-liners and insults, and each episode has a "I can't believe they just did that" moment. Party Down is funny and tries to bring something new to the sitcom genre. Now that's one party I'd like to attend. (As long as I didn't have to wear a tie.)

Party Down: Season One wants to know if you're having fun yet on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. This two-disc set contains all 10 episodes of the show's first season. The shows have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. For the most part, the image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. However, I did notice that with the episodes on Disc 2, any on-screen titles had a zig-zag pattern running through them. The image is never overly dark or bright and the colors always look fine. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a somewhat weak track, as we don't get much in the way of impressive stereo or surround sound effects, save for some music, both cues and in-show. This is a shame, as a show which centers around parties should have taken advantage of the built-in crowd noise, which could have been manipulated through all of the channels.

The Party Down: Season One DVD contains a few extras. Disc 1 holds an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen" with Executive Producers John Enbom and Dan Etheridge and Actor Adam Scott. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. We have an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh" with Executive Producers John Enbom and Dan Etheridge and Actor Adam Scott. "Party Down: A Look Behind the Scenes" (3 minutes) contains comments from the cast and series creators who discuss the feel and appeal of the show. "What is Party Down?" (2 minutes) has the show's creators describing their goals for the show and the kind of comedy that they like. There is a 8-minute reel of OUTTAKES, which is actually DELETED SCENES and alternate takes. There are eight of these and there is some funny stuff here. The GAG REEL (90 seconds) shows the cast messing up.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long