Party Down S3E2: Jack Botty’s (Delayed Post-Pandemic) Surprise Party

Party Down is back! Not just in the sense that Starz revived the series after a dozen years off the air, but because after episode one’s table-setting, we’re back into the show’s familiar rhythms. The Party Down crew are a team of screw-ups who don’t like their jobs or each other, and this week (as in most episodes), everyone does something that should get them fired. Part of the fun is seeing whose shenanigans fall into the harmless category and whose end up killing the party. 

Last week pointedly didn’t get the gang back together, but this one wastes little time on explanations as to why—a year and a pandemic after the previous episode—everyone’s back in pink bowties. Henry’s newly divorced and needs extra money; Kyle’s justifying coming back as an exercise in method acting. He’s up for the role of a bartender, and assumes his real-life experience, “as one of the few actors in LA who’s ever worked in food service,” (as Henry dryly puts it) will give him an edge.

We also meet Zoë Chao’s Lucy, a new addition to the season three cast. We assumed she’d step into the Lizzy Caplan role as a romantic foil for Henry, given how charmingly she played that part on The Afterparty. But Party Down is smarter than most reboots, and doesn’t simply give us a retread of what worked in the past. Chao is instead wonderfully cast against type as a prickly, pretentious chef whose cake pops are a “rumination on mortality.” She thinks food should be challenging art, and that people are too focused on “this taste and flavor bullshit.” That by itself is a solid gag, but it also pays off down the line when a party guest’s ill-timed rumination on mortality is what makes the party start to unravel.

Instead, it’s film producer Evie, returning from last week’s episode to throw this week’s party, who has terrific chemistry with Henry. She recognizes him again from his beer commercial days, and he acknowledges that he was turned down for a potentially career-making role on a film she produced. It’s not typical meet-cute stuff, but Jennifer Garner and Adam Scott have the same kind of simmering chemistry he had with Caplan in the show’s original run.

But in the meantime, Evie’s throwing a party for her movie-star boyfriend Jack (James Marsden). That she got him a karaoke machine he’s overly enthused about, despite not liking karaoke herself, is the least of their relationship problems. And the party itself has bigger issues than overly-challenging cake pops, as most of the crew abandon their responsibilities (as usual) to get into mischief. 

Sackson is convinced that Evie’s spacious, mirrored, off-limits-to-caterers bathroom would be the perfect place to shoot a TikTok, and Ron keeps having to shoo him out of room while himself finding reasons to take multiple showers there. Meanwhile, Lydia starts to worry that being an aggressive stage mom to her 23-year-old daughter might be unhealthy, as she discovers for the first time that not every child actor turned out well later in life. (“Judy Garland? She seemed so happy! Always singing and dancing!”) The storylines all collide as the usual stew of mishaps and resentment boil over and another party goes off the rails. Twelve years later, and it’s the same old Party Down

Stray Hors d’Oeuvres

• An ensemble cast this big means that in a half-hour show, not everyone’s going to get a turn. So we only get one or two lines from Roman, Kyle figures into the intro and then largely fades into the background, and we get Constance via Zoom just long enough for her to tell one of her Hollywood stories that typically goes off the rails from “you should follow your dreams” to “I have committed some fairly serious crimes.”

• So many great lines this episode:

“What are we not going to rock?”
“Your… body?”
“The boat.”

“God never closes a door without opening a window.”
“That’s how a bear got my uncle.”