This week, Party Down returns to Starz. In its original iteration the beloved comedy—about a group of LA cater-waiters stuck together both at work and in various stages of crushing disillusionment—lasted for just 20 episodes from 2009 to 2010. But what a glorious 20! Each episode was set at a different absurd catered function: a singles seminar, a murder-acquittal celebration, Steve Guttenberg’s birthday. And each episode managed, in a beautifully screwy, true-hard-laugh way, to capture something painfully real. Namely: Why, despite all available evidentiary material, do we continue to hope for good things from our lives? Who knows. We just do.
The show never got good ratings and was duly canceled in the summer of 2010, which feels pretty on-brand. Post-demise, fans and culture writers secured its legacy quickly, with a bevy of hagiographies and oral histories. So did it really need to come back? Especially without standout Lizzy Caplan, who was unavailable because she was already booked for FX’s Fleishman Is in Trouble? Alongside Adam Scott’s Henry Pollard, Caplan’s Casey Klein made up a really great and never resolved will-they-or-won’t-they. If there was a purpose to a third season, it feels like it could have been found in Henry and Casey’s storyline. Without that, it’s hard to know if Party Down, part deux will deliver.
But if there’s even a chance that this new third season is going to disappoint, I’d like to head off that familiar feeling of dejection by going back to a scene from the original—one that is among the best moments in TV history. It’s in the fifth episode of the first season, the “Sin Say Shun Awards Afterparty.” The episode’s Wikipedia recap alone is a kind of a gem: “While catering an adult entertainment awards afterparty, Ron gets an offer from a producer to star in a porn film, to get paid enough money to be able to start up his Soup ‘R Crackers franchise. Kyle tries to teach Roman how to play it cool around the porn stars, but to no such luck … Stormy Daniels guest stars as winner of the ‘Best blow job’ award.”
But the particular bit that steals the show comes when the aforementioned Roman, an aspiring science fiction screenwriter played by Martin Starr, finds himself working the bar for one lone customer: an adult entertainer named Cramsey, played by Beth Dover. What follows is a bracing nerd moment. A pure distillation of what it means to love some pop culture thing so much that it becomes you.
The moment starts off inauspicious, with Roman muttering in anger, serving Cramsey a drink, and offering up a cynical Star Trek reference: “Live long and prosper.” Then Cramsey asks a magical question: “Hey—are you into sci-fi?”
“Yeah,” he shoots back quickly, containing his excitement. “Are you into sci-fi?”
“Yeah, totally,” she says, then mentions a project she worked on when “an alien did me with his tentacle arms” for proof. “That sounds cool,” Roman says, with just the slightest of smiles. They chat some more, and there is a flicker of chance, of hope, for warmth, for care. Then he asks, “So what kind of stuff are you into?”