In the Watch This Next column, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another thing equally worthy of attention and we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
The only way I’m Googling you in ten years is if you get very creative in the way that you kill yourself. – Roman, ‘Party Down’
From ‘Entourage’ to ‘Sunset Boulevard’, Hollywood has long held a fascination with its own aspirational mythology – promising untold fame and fortune for those talented and lucky enough to grace the silver screen.
Through its obvious influence on popular culture – Hollywood’s portrayal of the aspiring actor looking to make it big in Tinseltown remains one of the most enduringly romantic, yet soul-destroying, career-paths in history.
It’s a journey defined by extremes: hope and despair; hubris and doubt; and one almost destined to end in failure, making it ideal narrative fodder for both drama, as in last year’s celebrated ‘La La Land’, and comedy, as in the cult sitcom ‘Party Down’, which follows the employees of a Los Angeles catering company waiting for their big break in show business.
Released on the Starz Network in 2009, the show centres on Henry (Adam Scott), a failed actor who returns to the titular Party Down catering company after his career runs aground. He’s forced to work alongside a group of suitably dysfunctional misfits, including Ron, the team leader and a recovering drug addict, Kyle, the dumb jock waiting to be discovered, and Roman, the nerdy and misanthropic aspiring screenwriter with a love of hard sci-fi.
Like ‘Extras’, ‘Party Down’ exists on the periphery of show business, revelling in the delusion and inherently downtrodden fortunes of those still looking to catch a break. Each episode finds the group tasked with catering a different event – from sweet sixteenth to an adult entertainment awards party – and dealing with the inevitable comedic fallout when things go wrong.
Henry plays the classic sitcom everyman, surrounded by a zany supporting cast and forced to endure their ridiculous antics. His unsuccessful acting career, which only produced one role of note – as the lead in a beer commercial – serves as a constant reminder of his own failings, with the ad’s sarcastic catchphrase, ‘Are we having fun yet?’, continually quoted back to him by strangers, much to his chagrin. His only interest is damaged love interest and co-worker Casey (‘Mean Girl’s Lizzy Caplan), who shares his sense of ennui and disdain for his job.
‘Party Down’ received critical acclaim during its run and boasted relatively high pedigree, with Rob Thomas (creator of ‘Veronica Mars’) and Paul Rudd among its creators, and guest stars including J.K. Simmons and Kristen Bell.
Despite this, and ironically for a show about undiscovered actors struggling to make it in Hollywood, Party Down suffered from low ratings and was cancelled after two seasons, following the departures of Scott and Jane Lynch.
Whilst the show itself struggled, it served as a launching pad for many of its cast, with Scott leaving for a breakout role as Ben Wyatt in ‘Parks and Recreation’ and Lynch and Martin Starr starring in ‘Glee’ and ‘Silicon Valley’ respectively.
Like ‘Veronica Mars’, which also generated a cult following despite poor broadcast ratings (and led to a crowd-funded film in 2014), a long-awaited film adaptation of ‘Party Down’ was heavily rumoured, but has yet to eventuate. Instead, and like Henry’s acting career itself, ‘Party Down’ endures as a promising, but ultimately unsuccessful, example of the harsh realities of the Hollywood dream.
‘Party Down’ is available on Stan.