Party Down only lasted for two seasons and only ran for twenty half-hour episodes, but it stands out as perhaps the sharpest comedy from the turn of the decade. Clever, grounded, and witty, Party Down deserved more than what Starz ultimately gave it, but it, at the very least, packs a healthy punch with each episode.
What makes the writing shine above all else is the cast. Each main character is well defined and understandable. Characters are co-workers and not necessarily friends, keeping the door for tension realistically open without raising the stakes to any extremes. Naturally, this approach lends itself to some very inspired writing.
10 "The Only Way I’m Googling You In Ten Years Is If You Get Very Creative In The Way That You Kill Yourself."
Ron utterly failing at running Souper Crackers between seasons really puts into perspective how misguided his confidence was back in season 1. To think he’d not only succeed but succeed well enough where Roman would be able to casually Google Ron. Even if the show continued, there was no way Ron was bouncing back after this loss.
And while funny, hopefully, he doesn’t fulfill Roman’s prophecy either. For as cruel as Ron was treated over the course of the show, season 2 did end with him finding love in an extremely compatible partner. While he might not have financial success, he at least ends on a high.
9 "You Know, Acting Is Like Crime. But Instead Of Guns Or Clubs, I Assault You With Emotions."
Despite having six members in the cast at all times, Party Down really only has three main characters: Henry, Casey, and Ron. Characters like Kyle, Roman, Constance, Bobbie, and Lydia all contribute, but to a lesser degree. If anything, though, this means they have to be funnier.
Kyle is probably the least-focused-on of the consistent five caterers, but he has some of the funniest lines as a result. He’ll appear briefly, make some strange pointed observation, and fade away until later. He’s at his best when playing against one-off characters as these situations allow for his worst traits to come out more naturally.
8 "I Was Once In A Workplace Romance. It Kinda Got Out Of Hand. It Was A Sex Explosion."
Constance isn’t a constant presence but is she a presence nonetheless. In her eight episodes in season 1, she ends the series as one of the show’s funniest characters. From her bizarre interpersonal relationships to her perpetually insane backstory, there’s no such thing as an unfunny scene when Constance is around.
Constance’s sexual history, in particular, is a marvel to behold. It’s this aspect of her character that actually ends up netting her a big break. While it might not seem the most dignified end for the character at first, she actually ends the series on a massive personal high.
7 "It’s Not Lying, It’s Acting. Look, I Was An Actor, It’s Easy. You Just Use The True Bits And You Take The Fake Bits."
Henry Pollard is one of the most fascinating comedy protagonists of all time. Better suited for an existential drama, he spends most of the series desperately refusing to grow while very gradually growing in the process. His arc would be difficult to see if not for the series’ final scene where he gets back into acting officially.
That said, Party Down does drop some clear indicators that Henry’s love of acting is starting to grow back up, especially whenever he discusses the subject. His philosophy on acting doesn’t glamorize the art, but it doesn’t downplay it either. It captures the essence of acting in a simple yet nuanced way.
6 "Grab Your Destiny By The Balls And Squeeze Hard. I’ll Bet You’ve Never Done That In Your Career."
Bobbie St. Brown ends up replacing Constance after Jane Lynch leaves the show and while Bobbie’s no Constance, she manages to bring a similar level of energy to help ease out the season. Bobbie is also certifiably insane on a level Constance isn’t, spending the entire first season finale high on mushrooms.
She also serves to kick Henry into gear near the end of the first season. She challenges his ideals and decisions, spurring him to try to piece himself back together. Plus, Bobbie’s mania is just a comfort at a time in the show where the story is slowly building to Henry and Casey’s breakup.
5 "Insect, Leave Us!"
“Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh” is one of Party Down’s most important episodes. It breaks down Casey and Henry’s relationship; it pushes every single character out of their comfort zone and serves as Constance’s last episode before the series finale. As Constance is courted, it’s made clear to Ron that he is the odd man out.
The episode really does shove Ron to the bottom of the hierarchy and it’s frankly hilarious for it. A one-off character berating him to no end makes Constance’s courting all the funnier. Ricky’s mob ties also led an uneasy, but funny, layer over every dynamic in the episode.
4 "Death Is Not The End, I Can Tell You That One For Sure. When My Friend Peg’s Fiancée Got Shot, He Haunted Her Apartment."
As neither Constance nor Bobbie St. Brown return for season 2, Lydia ends up filling up their role for the rest of the series. A divorcee who’s also managing her young daughter’s career, Lydia is an interesting character. She’s far zanier than Constance was and distinctly uncool. That doesn’t make her any less funny though.
She ends up one of the funniest characters on the show, randomly going on about her friend Peg, her ex-husband Ed, and her daughter Escapade. She’s also far more unhinged the Constance, leading her to interact with guests in increasingly inappropriate manners. She’s one of the better replacement characters in television.
3 "The 4 Ps and 1 B. Politeness, Professionalism, Perfectionism, Proactive, Be On Time."
“What don't you understand? It's crystal clear. Ron Donald Do's, okay?” - Ronald Wayne Donald, 2010.
This is probably one of the most insane things Ron says in the entire show. The entire RDD system fails on a conceptual level, but his commitment to the process just makes it so unlikably endearing. It’s by far Ron’s craziest scheme to control the team, but it’s also hands-down the funniest.
Just the chain of 4 Ps and then a single B sells just how poorly designed Ron’s RDD system is. All his Ps are so loosely connected as well. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what Ron is trying to accomplish with the Ron Donald Do’s, but they wouldn’t be as funny otherwise.
2 "Here Lies Ronald Wayne Donald. Repeated First Grade Because He Couldn’t Figure Out Scissors."
Henry might be the main character, but Ron is Party Down’s best character hands down. His character arc is just so compelling to watch unfold. The way he ebbs and flows between brief success and extreme failure just makes him so endearing. The way he reflects on himself, in particular, stands out.
He’s so earnest about his shortcomings that it’s hard not to love him even at his most insane. It also only makes sense that Ron would have to repeat a grade for something as simple as failing to grasp the concept of scissors. It’s something that could really only happen to Ronald Wayne Donald.
1 "Are We Having Fun Yet?"
“Are we having fun yet?” really captures the extent of Henry’s acting career. From as early as the first episode, it’s obvious what this phrase represents for Henry: his limits. It’s a phrase that comes back gradually throughout season 1, but it’s toned down considerably in season 2. As Henry detaches himself from his failing, his “legacy” escapes him.
Of course, it’s also just an appropriately catchy line designed to stick in the mind. It’s the perfect cheesy slogan for beer and it makes sense why Henry would lock into the role so tightly. Had the series continued, it’s likely this detail would have been further explored, but season 2 handles Henry’s arc perfectly.