Everyone involved in the long-awaited Party Down season 3 experienced a moment in which they finally realized that this was happening … that Starz’ little-watched but much-loved comedy was really coming back to television after 12 years away.
For Henry Pollard actor and producer Adam Scott (Severance), that moment arrived in fall of 2021 when Starz provided the cast and crew with a greenlight to begin shooting.
“I was like ‘Oh my god, this is a real TV show again.'”
For showrunner John Enbom (who co-created the series alongside Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd), it was when the studio opened up its checkbook.
“I think it became really real when we were able to open an office. Because when somebody actually writes a check, then it’s real.”
That moment for Ron Donald actor Ken Marino didn’t arrive until he was actually on set for the first day of shooting.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time. At a certain point I stopped believing … and as soon as I stopped believing, it happened.”
Marino’s momentary loss of faith can be forgiven. In the long canon of TV shows brought back from the dead, few were likelier candidates for reanimation than Party Down. To say that this two-season comedy about failed entertainers working as caterers in Los Angeles had viewership issues is to put it lightly. The first two seasons aired on U.S. pay cable network Starz in 2009 and 2010 and enjoyed Nielsen ratings that could be charitably described as “non-existent.” The show’s then-series finale took in a reported 13,000 viewers. No, not 130,000. Thirteen thousand.
But in the age of streaming, what is dead may never die … particular if what is dead is actually great. Though very few TV-watchers realized it at the time, Party Down was quite simply one of the best comedy series of the new millennium. Eventually enough folks caught up with the episodic saga of Ron Donald (Marino), Henry Pollard (Scott), Casey Klein (Lizzy Caplan), and their “Party Down” catering team to make the show an easy cult classic. In its post-cancellation years, Party Down was able to count many notable figures as fans. And one of those fans proved to be particularly useful in bringing the show back.
“There was this new head of Starz (Jeffrey Hirsch),” Enbom says. “The whole reason this started was because we read an interview in the trades where he made reference to liking Party Down. Rob Thomas just called him and he was just like, ‘Hey, guess what? We’re here and we’re ready.'”
That phone call eventually led to what would become the third season of the show. Featuring six episodes and premiering on Friday, Feb. 24, Party Down season 3 is exactly that: a third season. Though it might be arriving more than a decade after its second season, the folks behind this new batch of episodes hesitate to call it any word that begins with “re.”
“We never wanted to do a reboot, or a revival or like a reunion,” Enbom says. “We wanted to just do more. That’s originally what we pitched (Starz) and that was what was in our heads the whole time. Twelve years have passed, where is everybody? What are they doing? How do we get everybody back together?”
Bolstering Party Down season 3’s reputation as a direct continuation is that it was able to bring an impressive amount of its original cast back. There’s only one performer missing this time around, though regrettably – it is one of the show’s leads: Lizzy Caplan as Casey Klein.
“We were having all these scheduling issues, trying to figure out how we could get our cast back together,” Enbom says. “We had the unfortunate failure to align with Lizzy, where she had other projects that she couldn’t work around.”
Also absent is Jennifer Coolidge who had a brief stint as Bobbie St. Brown in the final two episodes of season 1, replacing Jane Lynch who had left the series to star on Glee. Pretty much everyone else is back though, including Lynch’s ultimate replacement Megan Mullally and Lynch herself. We last saw Lynch’s Constance Carmell in the season 2 finale when the Party Down crew catered her wedding to a very rich man.
“We’re all back together and there’s something about it that’s really nice for all the characters … even though they may not want to admit it,” Lynch says.
Indeed Party Down season 3 may present the biggest acting challenge its cast’s careers. That’s because, while all of the show’s actors are irrepressibly excited to get back together, returning to a life of catering has bleak implications for their characters who were once starry eyed actors, writers, performers, and all-around artistes.
In the Party Down season 2 finale, Henry Pollard quit his catering gig to take one final swing at his acting dream. By the mere fact that he appears in the distinct pink bow-tie of a Party Down employee in season 3’s first trailer, we know that particular dream probably didn’t pan out … again. Similarly, air-headed actor/musician Kyle Bradway (Ryan Hansen) and dour “hard sci-fi” writer Roman DeBeers (Martin Starr) can’t be thrilled with their current lot in life. Ron Donald is probably excited. But that’s just Ron Donald for you.
Keeping things from getting too dark is an influx of fresh and eager faces including two new Party Down caterers. Tyrel Jackson Williams (Brockmire) and Zoë Chao (Love Life) join the cast as Sackson Paxton and Lucy Dang, respectively. Sackson is a Tik Tok-obsessed hype beast while Lucy is a chef who is very serious about the craft of making elevated hors-d’oeuvres for party-goers who don’t much care. Both characters and the actors who play them bring a more youthful perspective to the season.
“When we first did the show in 2009, we were current with the latest trends. Now here we are in 2023 and the whole world has passed us by, “Lynch says. “These kids are talking about things like content, social media, and streaming and this is brand new to us.”
Williams, 25, and Chao, 37, are aware of, and in fact revel in, their status as Gen-Z/Millennial avatars on set.
“The director or John (Enbom) would walk over and ask “OK, so what we’re shooting for is this. Does this make sense? Are people still doing this?” Williams says.
“Is everyone’s still dabbing?” Chao adds.
The other two additions to season 3 are major movie stars in their own right, once again revealing the elevated status that Party Down has earned in its years off the air. James Marsden (X-Men) guests in several episodes as acting superstar Jack Botty, while Jennifer Garner (Alias) gets a generous amount of screen time for a non-caterer as Hollywood exec Evie Adler.
When looking to cast Evie, Scott and the rest of the producing team were in the market for “a Jennifer Garner type,” never imagining that the real deal might be a possibility.
“We thought ‘let’s just throw a Hail Mary and and offer it to her.’ And when she passes, we’ll figure out who’s playing Evie,” Scott says. “But weirdly she said yes. Then we were like ‘Oh, now we have to really get our shit together and be a real TV show.'”
With a helpful balance of new faces and old friends, Party Down season 3 is the rare example of a TV return that feels as though it may as well have never left. Yes, the entertainment landscape is different – Party Down season 1 premiered a year after the MCU’s Iron Man and now season 3’s first episode naturally deals with a fictional superhero cinematic universe – but the emotions at play feel the same.
At its core, Party Down was always a funny, yet achingly tragic, story of a dream deferred. The caterers of Party Down live in the blissful dream world of La La Land yet feels miles away of their own creative dreams. The only reasonable course of action would be to give up and find some semblance of satisfaction with your equally devastated co-workers.
But if you give up now what if you miss out on a future of glorious success? Like a season 3 premiere that draws in more than 13,000 viewers?
Party Down season 3 premieres Friday, Feb. 24 at 9 p.m. ET on Starz in the U.S.