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The ‘Party Down’ revival is every bit the equal of the original

Perhaps the hardest thing about reunions, other than getting them to happen in the first place, is convincing the world that the effort was worth it. Whatever excitement news of a revival stirs in fans is inevitably accompanied by suspicion that it won’t live up to why they loved the original. At the same time, there’s the question of whether it can appeal to a new audience in a world that has moved on – is it just replaying the old hits for the sake of nostalgia, or does it have something new to say? Is it a cynical money grab, a lazy recycling of intellectual property, or is it a sincere effort to make something good, out of love or fun, or the feeling of just not getting done?

It’s unlikely anyone who wasn’t directly involved with the Starz series “Party Down” would have thought of a third season, but we’ve got one (premiering Friday, again on Starz), 13 years after the end of the second. And speaking as a fan of what came before, what’s here now seems very worthwhile, from a piece with its wonderful predecessor in style and wit – there are no formal innovations to formally innovate – but in no way outdated. (Whether the kids care, who knows? But they should.)

“Party Down,” a frenetic dark farce-cum-social satire set between a team of caterers in LA, was and remains a mobile workplace comedy, with each episode based on a different kind of event in a different location, where things inevitably going wrong for the hosts, the guests or the people hired to serve them – not so much a transportable party as a transportable food fight. The original cast, returning almost intact, now looks even more impressive, retroactively a supergroup: Adam Scott, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr, Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally, Ryan Hansen – only Caplan missing from the new season, taking into account a work conflict. Skillful new members Tyrel Jackson Williams and Zoë Chao provide generational breadth, with Jennifer Garner as the romantic interest for Scott’s hapless every man, Henry.

Created by Rob Thomas (who previously brought back his “Veronica Mars” based on a Kickstarter campaign), John Enborn, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd, with Enborn as this season’s showrunner, it’s a comedy of fail and fail again. (The conventionally most “successful” characters—that is, the ones who do the hiring—are usually the least attractive.) No one but Marino’s Ron, who is about to take over the business, is there for the love of catering; indeed you could say they are very bad at their jobs, often disappearing to get high, kiss or otherwise follow their own agendas.

At the start of the new season, the characters, who have been scattered by the wind, reunite at a party to celebrate Kyle (Hansen) being cast in a superhero franchise. Only Starr’s Roman, a perpetually unpublished, constitutionally embittered writer of “hard science fiction” (“You make it big in this cultural void, it just proves you’re evil on some level. … I accept the possibility that I probably won’t have been appreciated in my lifetime”), appropriately, still works for Party Down after 13 years. Henry, a discouraged actor about to give it another try at the end of the second season, has become an English teacher; Mullally’s impossibly optimistic, naive Lydia manages her daughter Escapade’s (Kaitlyn Dever) successful film career.

There are callbacks to the second-season finale, where Lynch’s Constance became bride, widow, and heiress over the course of 30 minutes; an extremely tall Roman scribbled his “magnum opus” on a roll of toilet paper, and Kyle’s band, Karma Rocket, sang a song whose lyrics, unintentionally, came across as an ode to Hitler. (“People just don’t understand poetic rock lyrics,” Constance muses, “and that’s unfortunately why The Doors never caught on.”)

In the second episode, Kyle and Henry will be back wearing white shirts and bow ties, mixing drinks and serving hors d’oeuvres, and the randomly spiritual Constance, whose first thought is that they should hire a shaman, will co-own from party down. Their new colleagues include Sackson (Williams), a web content creator, and Lucy (Chao), a deadly serious chef whose food isn’t meant to taste good, but only to arouse complicated feelings. For a surprise birthday party, she makes “basic cake,” made in the style of a store bought on sale, with a center of aged camembert. … You get an innocent childish sweetness followed by an earthy touch of decay. … It is a reflection on mortality.”

While Caplan is missed — her character, Casey, rose to fame on “Saturday Night Live” — her presence probably would have meant another season between her and Henry was underway, which may have been a season too far. While Lynch’s departure after the first season to work on “Glee” gave way to Mullally, Caplan’s unavailability opens a door for Garner, as film manager, bringing a glimmer of happiness to Henry – if anything, their relationship lacks the toxic insecurity. of that with Casey, which is perhaps the most novel thing about this new season.

On the most immediate level, the joy of ‘Party Down’ has less to do with narrative development – again, this is a show about being stuck, and the third season doesn’t really feel like an attempt to close an unfinished story – if watching a group of talented actors grab some good material and get to work with it. (It’s obvious they’re having fun.)
That’s not to say there aren’t little triumphs and truly emotional moments amidst the disasters, and something of an arc to the new season; if there’s a problem here, it’s that at six episodes it’s too short – sitcoms take time to breathe. Still, it feels like a revival of a 13-year run full of freshman opportunities, and you hope it doesn’t end here.

‘Party Down’

Where: Starz

When: Always

Judgement: TV-MA (may not be suitable for children under 17 years old)