Fridays at 10:30 p.m.
4 out of 5 stars
What would Vincent Chase from “Entourage” be doing if he never broke through with his role in “Head On,” the movie that launched his fabled acting career and propelled him into stardom? Well, he’d probably be working at Party Down Catering.
Starz’s new original series “Party Down” takes a more cynical look at Tinseltown than the dream-like Hollywood success story of “Entourage.” “Party” follows a gang of wannabe writers and actors who never quite got their feet in the door, and are now reduced to having to pay the bills by working for a catering service.
The catering company, Party Down, is home to a wacky set of characters, some of whom are more realistic about their chances in Hollywood than others. The show’s lead, Henry Pollard (Adam Scott, “Step Brothers”), is the most sensible of the bunch. His 15 minutes of fame are over — he was featured in a series of beer commercials — and now he just wants to get through life without being asked to repeat his catchphrase.
Scott has the talent to pull off the more realistic-minded Pollard. He plays the part perfectly, having mastered the blank, judgmental stare necessary for moments like when his coworker Kyle Bradway (Ryan Hansen, “Veronica Mars”) pathetically recites lines for his upcoming audition to get a role in a shitty “O.C.”-esque drama. Conversely, when geeky wannabe science-fiction writer Roman DeBeers (the hysterical Martin Starr, “Freaks and Geeks”) babbles about how he’s more badass than George Lucas (“Everyone knows Lucas is kiddie bullshit. I’m hard sci-fi!”), that stare of utter disbelief sported by Scott is money.
The most memorable performance, however, is delivered by Jane Lynch (“Role Models”) as Constance Carmell, the crew’s eldest member. She tells stories of glory days hanging out with Gene Hackman and working on “Matlock.” Most side-splitting are the moments where Constance imparts her knowledge — or, often, lack thereof — about acting and the movie business to the younger caterers.
The group of Hollywood misfits have a gig at different locations each week. They’ve worked everywhere from a homeowners’ party in a yuppie-infested neighborhood to Seniorlicious, a place where senior citizens can meet to hook up. The mobile setting, which takes away the stage and laugh track, puts a refreshing twist on the tired workplace sitcom recipe.
“Party Down” also benefits greatly from having fewer restrictions than the average sitcom. The show airs on Starz, so, unlike its network counterparts, there isn’t strict censorship on the show’s raunchy comedy. There’s full frontal nudity in the series premiere, pot-smoking in the second episode and more dirty words in the series so far than network TV comedies could ever dream of using. The show’s venue turns out to be a blessing. The rude, sometimes downright vulgar sense of humor in “Party Down” is used perfectly to sell the show’s brand of comedy.
“Party Down” is unlike any other workplace comedy out there, and that’s its biggest strength. With that in mind, maybe Starz will stop showing “The Jane Austen Book Club” and “Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert” over and over to make room for more original programming like “Party Down.”