Party Down Season 3 Review: A Brilliantly Funny Cult TV Revival

Revivals of older TV shows are impossible for studios to resist, and almost as impossible to pull off successfully. The amount of time passed makes it hard not to focus directly on how characters and their performers have grown or aged. Moreover, the original shows often end appropriately with respect to their context and setting. So reviving these shows ends up invoking an unintentional sense of sadness; the closed book is reopened instead of just leaving well enough alone. In short, some shows are best left un-revived because bringing them back makes them feel undead in a way, like zombies who should have stayed in the grave.

From the outside in, a revival of the cult comedy "Party Down" would be an awfully hard thing to pull off. The original Starz series had a direct throughline of depression built into its core, as it tracked the foibles of a catering company in Los Angeles peopled with various sorts who were all trying and failing painfully to make it big in Hollywood. And that original series ended after two short seasons, in 2010, in no small part because (irony of ironies) enough of its core cast was hitting it bigger in the industry, from lead Adam Scott moving onto "Parks and Recreation" to fellow castmate Jane Lynch moving into her award-winning breakout role as Sue Sylvester on "Glee." So consider the third season of "Party Down" a magic trick. Returning to Starz, and dragging with it many original cast members, the new season picks up with a similar sense of the downbeat and manages to be enormously, deliriously funny. It's the unicorn of revival series.

When we first meet the returning cast, though, things aren't at their lowest. The hapless Ron Donald (Ken Marino) remains the head of Party Down Catering, trying his best to score big and parlaying the rise to fame of his ex-employee Kyle Bradway (Ryan Hansen) as a way to get in close with some of the other actors in the sprawling superhero franchise Kyle is now part of. Henry Pollard (Adam Scott) isn't working with the company, but is an invited guest at their latest event, celebrating Kyle's new movie. The grouchy sci-fi fan Roman (Martin Starr) is still working for Party Down, even more bitter than before. Henry's joined as a guest by fellow ex-caterers Lydia (Megan Mullally) and Constance (Lynch); the most notable absence, explained in the first episode, is that of Henry's ex, Casey (Lizzie Caplan), and the trajectory her career has taken in the offscreen period.

But by the end of the premiere of this six-episode return, something approaching a status quo arrives, and soon Henry, Kyle, Lydia, and Constance are back at it with Party Down (for various reasons too spoilery to reveal here). While the new season, largely written by co-creator John Enbom, does not avoid any downbeat aspects (especially as it clarifies why Henry's wearing the pink bow tie and white dress shirt again), it counterbalances that sadness with extremely sly and vicious humor targeting how the industry has shifted. (One of the new caterers, played by Tyrel Jackson Williams, is a TikTok-style content creator, and is roundly dismissed by the older caterers every time he tries to explain what he does.)

A TV comedy that's actually funny

The other big point in the favor of this season is that its six episodes are all roughly 30 minutes long. So many new streaming comedies feel adjacent to the concept of making the audience laugh, and often approach the length of network TV dramas in the process, but "Party Down" winds up having propulsive pacing. (All episodes excluding the season finale have been made available to critics.) Pacing aside, the most notable addition to the cast is Jennifer Garner, as Evie, a Hollywood producer who Henry runs into during the first episode, and quickly connects with on a personal level. (Evie inevitably recognizes Henry from his decades-old commercial featuring the infamous tagline "Are we having fun yet?", but they're able to move past that quickly.) Garner slips right into the larger ensemble, proving to be as charming and funny as ever, with particularly fun chemistry with Scott. Those who may be more familiar with Adam Scott through his recent starring role on the Apple TV+ series "Severance" will be unsurprised by the intense emotional depths he's able to plumb in certain scenes of this mostly raucous comedy. But his byplay with Garner recalls his character's romance on "Parks and Recreation," which is a nice throwback, too.

As was the case with the original "Party Down," there is not a weak link in the cast. Starr is as snappish as ever, bouncing off Hansen's himbo Kyle as much now as he did in the first two seasons. And Ken Marino once again gets to display his flair for physical comedy that's as hilarious as it is uncomfortable; Ron Donald, in short, continues to debase himself as much as humanly possible in the hopes of impressing those around him and often coming up short. With the season being so short and tightly focused in terms of character arcs, there are admittedly a few performers who get less to do (Lynch stands out here — for reasons presumably due to the actress' career, Constance only appears in a couple of the episodes in person), but the various ways in which Enbom is able to concoct new and immensely awkward situations for the Party Down crew to navigate, from catering a far-right-wing event to handling post-pandemic parties (yes, the pandemic happened in this show's world too) are invariably clever and witty. And as before, the handful of notable guest stars, from one of Scott's "Parks and Rec" co-stars playing very much against type to an A-Lister doing a riff on Robert Downey, Jr., are as funny as the regulars.

"Party Down" returning more than a decade later ought to be a recipe for disaster. Simply based on the history of other revived series, from the extended return of "Arrested Development" on Netflix to new episodes of "Full House" and "Roseanne", this show should have stumbled from the outset. And yet, there is a novel and precise quality to why "Party Down" is back, and the writing staff does not shy away from acknowledging and even embracing the downbeat aspects of a story about people struggling to become famous and how they're ... still struggling. And most important of all, "Party Down" is still riotously funny, sharp, and savvy about its world and its characters. Welcome back.

"Party Down" season 3 premieres Friday, February 24 on Starz.