“Is Casey Klein going to be here?” Lydia (Megan Mullally) asks in “Kyle Bradway is Nitromancer,” the Party Down Season 3 premiere. The question comes just after images of Casey (Lizzy Caplan) are flashed on an Entertainment Tonight-like show reporting on rumors of the now famous actress getting into a relationship with her co-star. And it’s a question that seems placed to acknowledge fans’ curiosities about Caplan’s absence head on.
Lydia and Constance (Jane Lynch) lament Casey’s absence because of their adoration for the past situationship between Casey and Henry (Adam Scott) — they are both skinny and have brown hair after all, Lydia’s main qualifications for a perfect couple. When Roman (Martin Starr), ever the anti-romantic, reminds Lydia and Constance that Casey and Henry were just hooking up because they both happened to be working a crappy job, it feels like he’s directly addressing the shippers watching the episode at home.
“We wanted to be able to touch on that a little bit, at least indicate that people are aware that this is a relationship that was a very specific relationship in a time and place and that not everybody thought that is was meant to be an epic romance,” says series co-creator and writer John Enbom at a press conference for the new season “For some it was just two coworkers who kind of messed around for a while.”
But what the moment really speaks to is what a different environment Party Down is coming into this time around. When the show first aired 13 years ago, there were no fans to think about — it barely had any real-time viewers. In some ways, that’s part of what shaped the tone of the series because the writers and actors didn’t feel beholden to anyone but themselves.
“When we made the show, by and large people didn’t know it existed, and we didn’t care, we just loved doing it and we’re doing it for ourselves and each other and it was super fun,” Adam Scott says. “And we all connected with these characters because success was out of reach for all of us as well. It was really therapeutic in a way, and we really got it, really got these feelings.”
Of course, in the years since, members of the cast have become quite famous. And while Scott insists that his real-life achievements haven’t hindered his ability to get into character — “I still feel exactly the same, I don’t feel like a successful person,” he says — being booked and busy made the logistics of getting everyone’s filming schedules to align the biggest challenge of bringing Season 3 to fruition. Between filming Fleishman Is in Trouble and the upcoming Fatal Attraction series, Caplan couldn’t fit in a Party Down appearance. Similarly, her character Casey is said to be absent from the reunion in the Season 3 premiere because she’s filming in New York.
In that same stretch of time, the show’s audience exponentially grew. As talks of Season 3 became more and more promising, there was now a whole vocal fandom to consider, a group that has had more than a decade to imagine their own version of what would happen during a reunion between these characters.
“Some of the stuff in there definitely represents our take, especially on how the internet has affected how people participate in television in the sense that there are a lot of these relationships that become elevated beyond what you as a writer might think,” Enbom notes. “I might be able to do whatever I think is appropriate, but then you run into a wall of devoted fans being like, ‘do not f*ck with the thing that I love.’”
It’s a trap that many reboots fall into, relying on nostalgia and fan service over focusing on the original ideas that made the show successful in the first place. Party Down Season 3 is successful overall because the writers dispense with the meta moments in Episode 1 in a way that still feels natural to the characters. Of course Lydia, always obsessed with coupling up, would still hold onto the notion that Casey and Henry might still hold a torch for each other after all these years. And of course Casey and Henry, the pessimistic realists, would have long moved on.
After Casey’s absence is addressed in Episode 1, it’s never brought up again, making room for a whole new set of regulars to bring something fresh to the show — none of the new cast members feel like a one-to-one replacement for Caplan. Her exit actually allowed Enbom to put into practice an element of the premise he had in mind from the very beginning of the series.
“In the early days we didn’t even know if we could hold onto the cast season to season, we never made big overall deals, so we always talked about one of the fun things about the show — and we did this a little bit when we lost Jane to Glee and Jennifer Coolidge played her roommate — just the idea that new people come in and out, that’s kind of part of the lifestyle,” Enbom says. “This is one of the first opportunities that we were able to do that.”
At the close of the episode Lydia says, “If only Casey would have been here, it would have been so romantic!” But Party Down was never about romance. After spending 30 minutes back in the bleakly hilarious world of these lovable failures, it comes as a punchline to the idea that Party Down would offer anything as hopeful as reunited lovers. By tackling the elephant in the room with cynicism, the show proves that even with a new legion of fans, the cast and crew continued to make these new episodes like no one was watching.
Party Down airs Fridays at 9:00 PM ET on Starz and is available on the Starz app. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.
TOPICS: Party Down, Adam Scott, John Enbom, Lizzy Caplan