There are a number of reasons that Party Down shouldn’t be the kind of show that I like. I frequently find awkward humor intensely uncomfortable. I absolutely hate watching people throw up. The show has a lot of Hollywood cliches. But I just absolutely love it, and tore through most of the show this weekend.
I think there are a couple of things about the show that caught me in a way that’s never been able to sustain my interest in that other bastion of awkwardness, The Office. First, it seems plausible that the characters could get away with the slow-boil level of incompetence that’s their general state without running things completely into the ground. The show makes the Party Down crew’s place in the Los Angeles catering economy clear, and plausible, and gets a lot of humor out of it. It’s a big city, and there are a lot of weird, mediocre people who need caterers in it, and better caterers who can use weird, mediocre caterers as backup:
And the way the show situates its characters on the margins of the industry they actually want to be in, as well as the one they actually are. Whether it’s Kyle’s desire to be in bad action movies, Roman’s hopes to break into mediocre sci-fi even as he loves Snow Crash and Star Trek, Casey hoping to make it as a comedian on a cruise line and avoid stomach viruses, Ron and his franchise restaurant. It’s the side of Los Angeles that is only on-screen briefly in most places, because it’s more palliative to the audience to believe that no one gets stuck there, that virtue will lift everyone who deserves it out of financial insecurity.
The show’s the inverse of The Office: rather than the fearless leader who believes everything is possible in Michael Scott, Henry essentially believes that nothing is possible. Instead of having to convince myself that there are mysterious forces that let Michael stay in business, I get a proxy in Henry, who sees the ridiculousness in everything around him, and who understands the value of getting by.