Monday, June 7, 2010

Party Down on DVD This Summer

With Glee providing the last major finale tomorrow night, the main TV season is most definitely over. And as much as the networks may talk about their 52-week schedules, we all know that summer TV, at least on the networks, is a bust. The benefit: more time to watch shows we somehow missed when they originally aired. Whether it's older shows you always meant to try (yes, I'm still working on The Wire) or new shows it's not too late to jump into, summer TV for me is all about the TV on DVD.

Or in this summer's case, TV on Wii. Thanks to Netflix adding Wii to their list of Netflix ready devices, I can now watch anything on Netflix's instant viewing section on my TV. Which is largely how I came to try Party Down, a show that premiered as one of Starz's first original programs a year ago and is currently on its second season, but few people seem to know about it. Despite big names in the cast and among the producers, it has remained very much below the radar.

Which is exactly why I'm recommending it for TV on DVD this summer. I got so hooked after starting I ended up watching all 10 episodes of the first season in just 2 days. So what is it? Well, it's basically The Office but set at an LA catering company comprised of wannabe actors, with each episode set during a different party. Though probably more the British version of The Office than the American one. And since it's on cable and is set in LA I'd toss in a little Extras, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Entourage. Think of the American version of a Ricky Gervais show and you're on the right track.

I was originally intrigued because one of the creator/producers is Rob Thomas, who previously created one of my all-time faves Veronica Mars. If you like Veronica Mars you'll definitely find a lot to like here, since a lot of Veronica Mars alums show up. Of the six regulars, four of them have some kind of Veronica Mars connection, as Ryan Hansen played Dick Casablancas, Ken Marino played Vinnie Van Lowe, and Adam Scott and Jane Lynch both guest starred. And more of their former castmates have guested here, including Kristen Bell (Veronica), Enrico Colantoni (Keith), Jason Dohring (Logan), and Alona Tal (Meg).

The rest of the cast is plenty accomplished as well. There's Jane Lynch, who has since left the show to become Sue Sylvester. Martin Starr, a Freaks and Geeks alum who stuck with the Apatow clan (and is probably best known as the beard guy from Knocked Up). And Lizzy Caplan, who you either know as Janis from Mean Girls or Jason's V-addicted girlfriend on True Blood (or both).

Anyway, I'll give imdb a rest and move on to the actual show. Ken Marino plays Ron, the David Brent/Michael Scott-like team leader of the catering crew who takes his job more seriously than anyone else there does and has the low-aiming dream of opening up his own chain soup restaurant. Adam Scott plays Henry, the Tim/Jim character whose greatest achievement as an actor was a beer commercial that gets him recognized everywhere but led him to quit acting. And Lizzy Caplan is Casey, the Dawn/Pam character, an aspiring stand-up comedian whose husband wants her to move to Vermont.

The party-of-the-week format allows for a ton of great guest stars (JK Simmons, George Takei, and Rob Corddry are a few more) as well as many different scenarios for hilarity. Some of my favorites: A college Republicans party in which the team manages to ruin the flag the students were planning to give to Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Hollywood sweet 16 where the birthday girl won't leave her room, a post-party for the porn awards, and a party for a Russian gangster who just got away with murder (but also recognizes everyone from their F-list acting jobs).

The show does have one major flaw though: it can't hold on to its cast. Jane Lynch leaves after the first 8 episodes to join Glee, which admittedly is an improvement for both Lynch and the world. Less acceptable is the news that Adam Scott will only be in three episodes in the third season due to his role in Parks and Recreation which is troubling for three reasons: 1. He's basically the main character on Party Down, 2. Party Down is a better show, and 3. Parks already has a large ensemble and doesn't really need him. That said, the producers' explanation that realistically catering tends to be a temporary job and people come in and out all the time makes sense. The show can survive it.

Far better news is that Netflix is able to stream the second season as each episode airs, so I can keep watching without having to wait for the DVDs. So if you're looking for something funny to watch this summer, give this a shot.

Want some more TV on DVD recommendations? Here you go!

Dexter - It's had four consistently great seasons, and with 24 and Lost over it is now the most addictive drama on TV.

Damages - It may or may not get a fourth year, but it's still got three crazy suspenseful seasons out there that I still can't believe more people didn't watch.

Glee & Modern Family - They were the breakout shows of this past season. If you haven't already, time to figure out why (these may not actually be on DVD).

True Blood - If you wished Twilight had a lot more nudity and was awesome instead of the stupidest thing ever, then this is for you.

Lost - You know you were secretly curious listening to your co-workers talk for hours about the finale. Go marathon all six seasons, and when you finish in two weeks we can talk.

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