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The Party Down Revival Was Good — If It Comes Back, It Can Be Even Better

More Lizzy Caplan, more Roman, more unique parties.
  • Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott in Party Down (Photo: Starz)
    Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott in Party Down (Photo: Starz)

    Party Down returned to television after 12 years, and even set against the high bar of a beloved cult show trying to re-capture lightning in a bottle, the six-episode third season was very good. The comedy was sharp, the characters had grown (or not grown) in believable ways, and the new characters and storylines were all quite satisfying. Sometimes nostalgic yearning works out, and the Party Down revival was one of those times. Now the show is faced with a new question: Will there be a Season 4? And if so, how do creators/producers John Enbom, Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd keep these good times rolling?

    Season 3 reunited almost all of the original Party Down catering team, now more than a decade older and with few exceptions no closer to their dreams of a big Hollywood career. After renouncing show business at the end of the second season, Henry (Adam Scott) has a full-time job teaching theater to high-school students, though a narratively convenient divorce means he has to re-join Party Down to make ends meet (the economy, folks!). The season took the team through some quasi-familiar situations, including a radical right-wing reception and luau where all the main characters get high on mushrooms. In the season finale, Henry turns down a tantalizing offer from his new studio-executive girlfriend Evie (Jennifer Garner) to star in a goobledeygook-sounding space-opera franchise, choosing instead to stay and teach. The most exciting moment was saved for the very end, though, as Casey Klein (Lizzy Caplan) returned, not a big (if dissatisfied) TV star. That cameo ended the season on a high point, even if it also served as a reminder of what might have been if Caplan's schedule had allowed her to film a full season.

    As Enbom told Variety back in March, there have been no talks about a fourth season on Starz, though "hope springs eternal." Even after a season that was by and large quite successful, there are ways in which Party Down can come back even better. We settled on five major requests.

    Just Bring Back Lizzy Caplan

    For as funny and well-developed as Season 3 was, that post-credits tag really highlighted how much Casey's absence was felt. Lizzy Caplan was unable to fully reprise the role because she was filming Fleishman Is in Trouble, in which she gave one of the strongest performances of her career. Casey’s absence in the show was also easily explained: She was the one member of the Party Down crew whose Hollywood ambitions had actually flourished. The show made brief mention that Casey was starring on a network procedural show that sounded a lot like The Equalizer, shooting episodes in New York City and walking at major red carpet events.

    But when Casey finally shows up in those final moments, things are not so idyllic. She clearly hates the show she's on and the direction her career is headed in general. She also maybe has a drinking problem? What she definitely still has is scorching chemistry with Henry (Adam Scott) — just a few minutes of screen time was more than enough to communicate that. There's still something there between Casey and Henry, and after being reminded of that, there's no returning for a prospective Season 4 without Casey back as a regular. Jennifer Garner did some fantastic work as Henry's new love interest Evie this season, and she deserves a round of applause (and maybe a comedy series that can capitalize on her talents). But unfortunately Evie can't compete with all the built-up affection the audience (and Henry) has for Casey. If the show comes back, Casey needs to be a bigger part of it.

    Don't Be So Beholden to the Original Run of the Show

    Easter eggs are fun, but while the callbacks in Season 3 were never annoying, the overall structure was sometimes so reminiscent of episodes from the first two seasons as to feel self-conscious.

    One of the best episodes of Season 1 was set at a Young Republicans gathering (in a sign of the times that you might need to be sitting down for, they were eagerly awaiting a keynote speech from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger). The callback episode in Season 3 was set at a party for white supremacists and Nazis. A knowing commentary on where right-wing politics have gravitated toward in the last decade? Surely. But in a season that also featured an episode in which everybody gets high (like Ron Donald did in Season 1) and another episode set at a prom party for Lydia's (Megan Mullally) daughter Escapade (Liv Hewson) that mirrors the Sweet Sixteen episode in the first run, it began to feel like the show was covering its own hits. These episodes were all well executed and incredibly funny, but if we're graced with another season, Party Down shouldn't look backward for inspiration quite so much.

    Make Better Use of Roman

    Inevitably, Season 3 was stronger for some characters than others. Henry's arc was quite rewarding (see below), and Ron Donald's (Ken Marino) doomed striving is always a delight to follow. Kyle's fall from the precipice of a superhero movie career was well-calibrated and gave Ryan Hansen plenty to do. A prospective fourth season really should do the same for Roman (Martin Starr). There is so much potential in the Roman character. The 12 years that passed between the first original runhave seen Hollywood give itself over entirely to exactly the kinds of fanboy-focused "soft" sci-fi that Roman despises. Now that superhero cinema has reached its oversaturation point, there's no better time to throw Roman waist-deep into the depressing maw of IP-dominated Hollywood. Season 3 featured plenty of Roman's vlogging, but his development deal for his long-gestating sci-fi pitch was over before it started. There may not be a character who has more to say about the current state of Hollywood than Roman. Party Down should play that card far more often.

    Keep Sackson and Lucy, and Expand Their Roles

    Two of the biggest risks this season were the additions of new Party Down team members Sackson (Tyrel Jackson Williams) and Lucy (Zoë Chao). The show had previously had good luck swapping out Jane Lynch for Megan Mullally in Season 2, but the dangers of bad generation-gap comedy were myriad as the original Party Down employees attempted to understand their new coworkers. In particular, Sacksonr, as a prospective influencer and TikTokker, offered plenty of temptation for stale jokes about social-media-pilled youth. Instead, Sackson was depicted as somebody who came by his ambitions honestly, even as he strived in a medium that was fundamentally silly, which is basically the way Party Down treats everybody's ambitions. The show left a little more meat on the bone (no pun intended) with Lucy's culinary ambitions, but that just means there's more territory to cover with her next season. Have her enter the reality-TV food economy!

    Give Henry Some Big Ambition

    Henry is the best-developed character on Party Down, with the strongest emotional pull in his central storyline. In the original run, it was easy to feel his pain, whether it was a romantic ache for Casey or the pain of humiliation whenever somebody asked him to jump through the "Are we having fun yet?!" hoop. Season 3 made the decision to have Henry ultimately stand by his decision to quit the entertainment industry. As it turned out, he really liked teaching, and it was something he was good at. It was a bold choice on the part of the show to essentially double down on its main character rejecting the premise of the series. The question now is where does he go from here? Bringing Casey back could answer that question, but Party Down was never about the Henry/Casey romance to the exclusion of those characters' ambitions. Henry still needs to want something, even if that something involves high-school theater. And as much as we want Henry to be happy with having quit the Hollywood hamster wheel, that life still needs to pull at him a little bit. We're not demanding that Henry's next class of high-school performers level up to Jimmy Awards caliber, we're just strongly suggesting it.

    Party Down is available to stream on Starz. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Party Down, Adam Scott, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Garner, John Enbom, Ken Marino, Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Rob Thomas (Writer), Ryan Hansen, Tyrel Jackson Williams , Zoe Chao