It was with trepidation I approached the return of Party Down. On one hand, as a devotee of the original series, I was hankering for a return of the motley crew of chaotic caterers and their cringe comedy shenanigans, which remorselessly skewered Hollywood, fame, and artistic ambition. On the other hand, not all of this crackling OG cast came back. And — more concernedly — I remember the “be careful what you wish for” fable that was the return of Arrested Development.
Party Down Season 2 ended with the perfect mix of heartbreak, humor, and hope. Would Season 3 of this cutting STARZ sitcom be a mesmerizing new chapter? Or a reunion we’d wish we could forget? Essentially, are we having fun…still?
It’s with great joy (and even greater relief) that I report Party Down Season 3, much like its wacky waitstaff, overcomes incredible obstacles to offer up something sweet and salty that’s totally worth savoring.
Who returns for Season 3 of Party Down?
The new season kicks off with an episode called “Kyle Bradway is Nitromancer.” As the title suggests, Party Down‘s resident himbo (Ryan Hansen) has hooked a role that’s got him riding high on the massive superhero movie wave. Naturally, he wants to celebrate his success — and rub it in the noses of his old co-workers.
With a big smile and too much zeal, Ron Donald (Ken Marino) leads his team of pink bow-tied staff, which still includes ornery sci-fi writer Roman DeBeers (Martin Starr), who has only grown more bitter with age. Former starlet turned wealthy trophy wife Constance Carmell (Jane Lynch) is happy to toast alongside stage mom turned momager Lydia Dunfree (Megan Mullally). But both lament that actor turned teacher Henry Pollard (Adam Scott) is robbed of the chance to reconnect with his will-they-won’t-they work crush Casey Klein (as Lizzy Caplan has not returned).
Fret not for Henry. He’s got a new love interest lined up in the form of a smart but self-doubting movie exec played by Jennifer Garner. An actress most known for rom-com whimsy, she’s an unexpected pick for this famously sarcastic comedy show. And admittedly, Garner and Scott don’t possess the level of chaotic sexual chemistry that he and Caplan did. Perhaps it’s unfair to assume anyone could really compete with dirty talk that involves pancakes and Mrs. Butterworth roleplay. Still, there’s something there. Garner brings a hint of sweetness while Scott brings a sharp edge, bolstered by a complicated meet-cute and a fractured flirtation. Garner makes for a sparkling addition to the cast, leaning into the show’s ruthless humor and earnest hope for Henry to finally get a win, be it in romance or in Hollywood.
Who is new to Party Down in Season 3?
Joining Garner as a newly minted regular are Tyrel Jackson Williams and Zoe Chao (The After Party) as a pair of Party Down employees with contemporary quirks.
Forget movie stardom — that’s an ambition for millennials. As Sackson, Williams represents the Gen Z dream to be a big Content Creator. His craft is TikTok vids and memes, and he’ll crash celebrity bathrooms and take ill-advised drug trips to chase the dopamine high of going viral. Williams has a breezy charm that plays perfectly here, as well as shaming reaction shots that scored a scream-laugh from me. His character allows the Party Down writers to dig into a new branch of Hollywood bullshit, as well as providing a mirror to Kyle’s ambition that’s often not flattering. Kyle is no longer the hot young stud. The rivalry that brews between the two dips into hilarious competitions and occasionally fraught bonding, much like Kyle and Roman had in the OG series.
Roman has a potential new buddy in Lucy Dang (Chao), a chef whose concept of cutting edge is making a cake that reminds the eater of death. (She’d fit in well with The Menu.) As she explains with a wickedly funny intensity, it is birthday cake. Mortality personified by a filling of stinky cheese is precisely the point! Whether Roman is attracted to her rebelliousness or her distaste for Ron (or both!), the two spark an intriguing chemistry that isn’t exactly romantic…but maybe could be?
Also on board for Season 3 are a selection of celebrity guest stars, which include Abbott Elementary‘s Quinta Brunson as a predictably opportunistic agent, Dead to Me‘s James Marsden as a cocky mega-star, The Last of Us‘s Nick Offerman as a deeply problematic foodie, and Yellowjackets‘ Liv Hewson as a former child star under pressure.
As with the first two seasons, each episode centers on a new catering gig, ushering audiences behind the scenes of a star-studded party, a eyebrow-raising political rally, and a promotional event modeled after a prom. Within each celebration, the Party Down crew finds new ways to make a fool of themselves, and they have us cringing and cackling along the way.
How does Party Down Season 3 compare to the original series?
It’s a tricky question I asked myself throughout watching the five (out of six) episodes released to critics. As a fan, it’s undoubtedly a thrill, not only to see these characters again but also to see this astounding ensemble reunited. None of the returning cast misses a beat at falling back into the stride of these lovable losers. Actually, Ken Marino throws himself so entirely into the embarrassments and pratfalls of the perpetually failing Ron that I hope he got hazard pay.
However, picking up this show 12 years later means that to stay true to its tone and message, its heroes can’t have had big wins in the interim. Broken dreams, divorce, regrets, and public apologies all come into play as Season 3 re-establishes its world. There’s just something sadder about forty-somethings still grasping for the brass ring. Maybe we’d like to think they’d either have made it by now or moved on. While most of these dreamers look up so intensely that they can’t acknowledge they’re on the edge of abject failure, Henry Pollard knows it. And Scott makes us feel it.
Scott, who’s steadily built a solid career as a quirky leading man with roles on Parks and Recreation and Severance, is once more Party Down’s dark soul and hopeful heart. In Henry’s new romance with a woman who is way out of his league, there’s ever the threat that he’ll be dumped and worse off than before. But for all his proclaimed cynicism — and that of the show’s — there’s a glimmer that maybe this time (I’ll be lucky!). Scott initially grounds us in Henry’s resignation, then his fragile hope, and even moments of vulnerable joy. And all of this is where Season 3 feels vital. Also, John Enbom’s writing team is still delivering twists that are wickedly, darkly, deeply funny. The final reveal of episode one is gold, pitching audiences right back into the sick swoon of this bittersweet comedy series.
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Sure, I miss Caplan’s snarling smirk and electric screen presence. But the show addresses her absence with a whip-smart condemnation from Roman pointed directly at the shippers who can’t let go. It’s me. And it stings. But he’s right. In the world of Party Down, there’s never just one shot at the dream. The problem is that the second, third, and 18th shots may also be misses, and with each one, it’s harder to pick yourself up. Season 3 recognizes this too, nodding along with us as we cringe over another crushing defeat, before offering us a minor victory as a little treat. Or maybe as a lure? Like the characters who can’t stop dreaming big no matter how often they face a rude awakening, we can’t help but hope their fates will change — and that this show will abruptly give us a happily ever after.
As I haven’t seen the finale, I can’t assure you what may come for Henry and the Party Down crew. But I can promise you that if you loved the original series, you’ll relish every twisted episode of Season 3, death cake and all.
Party Down Season 3(Opens in a new tab) debuts on on STARZ on Feb. 24 at 9:00 PM ET/PT and will be available on the STARZ app.