We’re flooded with so many revivals these days that it’s hard to get too excited about any one of them, but the return of Party Down does warm my heart… and surprise me a bit. The cult comedy about showbiz wannabes moonlighting as L.A. caterers is one of TV’s great gone-too-soon shows, getting the axe at Starz after two little-watched seasons despite a savagely sharp wit and a cast stacked with future stars. The fact that it’s back with nearly all of the original cast intact is a minor miracle, and the revival — premiering Friday, Feb. 24 at 9/8c; I’ve seen the first three episodes — does recapture a lot of what made Party Down so good… even though I have a nagging feeling that the show’s best days might be behind it.
Season 3 picks up a decade after we last saw the Party Down catering crew, and tireless boss Ron (Ken Marino) is still running the business with a fresh set of young caterers. The old team has mostly moved onto bigger and better things — except for Martin Starr’s “hard sci-fi” writer Roman, who’s older now but no less bitter — and a party in the premiere serves as an affectionate but awkward reunion for the former coworkers. After a series of unfortunate calamities, though, a few of them are forced to put the pink bow ties back on and pass around appetizers again. (The story has to jump through a bunch of hoops in order to get them back on the job, but we don’t really mind as long as they’re back.)
Party Down‘s unforgiving brand of Hollywood satire is as finely honed as ever, including lots of meta nods to the very idea of reboots and revivals. (Comic book movies take a serious beating here, too, so Marvel fanboys, avert your eyes.) But it’s all a bit sadder and less funny this time around. There’s a distinct strain of melancholy running throughout Season 3, now that the team’s once vibrant showbiz dreams have been snuffed out by the harsh realities of middle age. The extra years seem to weigh heavily on each character, and as a result, the laughs are harder to come by.
To their credit, the returning cast members slip right back into their old roles, with Adam Scott employing his usual deadpan world-weariness as Henry and Ryan Hansen in fine, dumb form as Kyle. We also get star cameos from the likes of Jennifer Garner, Quinta Brunson and James Marsden, but the new caterers — Tyrel Jackson Williams as an aspiring influencer and Zoe Chao as an avant-garde chef — don’t quite have the same sparkle as the originals. Season 3 does give us a chance, though, to appreciate Marino, who is truly an unsung gem as Ron: utterly clueless, hopelessly hopeful and achingly pathetic. If this season serves as nothing more than a showcase for Marino’s inspired buffoonery, it’d still be well worth it.
There is one major piece missing here, and that’s Lizzy Caplan, who played snarky comedian Casey during the show’s original run. Casey’s absence makes sense, story-wise — and Caplan was so terrific in Fleishman Is in Trouble, we can forgive her for skipping the revival — but the lack of Henry and Casey’s hipster-Jim-and-Pam workplace romance leaves an emotional void that the revival can’t adequately fill. (Henry does get a surprising new love interest, I should note.) We also don’t get much of Jane Lynch as Constance and Megan Mullally as Lydia; in one episode, Lynch only appears via Zoom, so the reunion isn’t quite as robust as you might have hoped. Still, I’m happy to stick around for the rest of this party, even if it’s noticeably dwindling down a bit.
THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Starz’s Party Down revival isn’t quite as fun as the original run, but it still has a great cast and plenty of satirical bite.