[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for the first episode of “Party Down” Season 3.]
Here’s some context for how long it’s been since “Party Down” went away: The last episode of the original run aired when “Iron Man 2” was still in theaters.
Now the show is back in a very different entertainment landscape, not just in how people watch things but what’s dominating the culture they’re a part of. Naturally, with the show coming back nearly 13 years after it disappeared off the Starz schedule, comic book movies are a running theme in Season 3. The first episode of the show’s reboot finds the old Party Down crew reunited at a party for Kyle (Ryan Hansen), recently cast as the newest member of an unnamed extended film universe. Throughout the season, characters toss out names of superhero movies ranging from the familiar (Megan Mullally was born to say the words “Guardians: Infinity Sticks”) to the bizarre (Jennifer Garner invoking “Manputer” is one of the moments where she confirms she belongs in the show’s cast).
As series showrunner John Enbom describes, coming up with joke names for fake IP ended up being a more difficult task than he and the show’s writers ever could have imagined.
“That was actually the hardest part of the whole thing. When we started diving into that world, we found that literally any funny-seeming superhero idea we had already existed and was copyrighted and untouchable,” Enbom told IndieWire. “We generated lists of thousands of zany names. It’s not as fleshed out as I hoped, because it took an enormous amount of effort just to get one character. I think we literally had a list of, like, five names we could use. So they’re sprinkled throughout. There’s a universe out there.”
A lot may have changed in the time that the show’s been lying dormant. Being back on the set and seeing the familiar items and trappings of the old “Party Down” sets had Enbom and the team right back in business on that first shoot day.
“The first thing we shot for this season was a classic ‘Party Down’ scenario. It’s that scroungy club kitchen, people sitting around in their little white shirts and pink ties. From the very first moment that everything was lined up, and everyone came in their wardrobe, we thought, ‘Oh boy,'” Enbom said. “Bringing in Zoë [Chao] and Tyrel [Jackson Williams] as our new members, seeing how easily they fit in with everything, was the second shoe to drop of that feeling. There’s the wonderful feeling of the gang back together, but also the new stuff. So we were feeling comfortable and happy about where we were going.”
Enbom and fellow “Party Down” executive producer Rob Thomas have credited the 2019 VultureFest reunion as a spark that lit the fuse for the show coming back. Making sure that “seeing old friends again” chemistry translated to these new six episodes meant coming up with a way to bring everyone together that made sense.
“We pitched a whole package to Starz as one thing. ‘Here’s where everyone’s been in the last 12 years. Here’s what they’ve been doing. Here’s the pilot, here’s all the episode ideas,'” Enbom said. “A lot of our time and energy went into figuring out how they all get back together. The first thing we had decided was that we didn’t want them all to just be all still doing their same job. We worried that would just be sad and it would cross the line. We did a lot of pre-planning on how we would try and play everything out. That was actually how the first seasons went as well. We were fortunate that once we pitched Starz on the show and we showed them this little backyard pilot that we had done, they picked up the whole 10 episodes. So we were just off to the races from there. We kind of did the same thing this go-around.”
The Season 3 premiere ends with a real-world kicker, showing how Ron Donald’s (Ken Marino) optimism comes crashing to earth when live events stop being a thing for much of 2020. In future episodes, some guests are masked. While some shows have pretended that Covid never happened, Enbom knew that it made sense to incorporate the pandemic into this new season.
“We leaned into it right off the bat, because we felt like having this giant global stroke of bad luck was a very ‘Party Down’ thing. The idea that it’s this thing that comes out of nowhere and blows up your life and blows up your plans, it seemed like the sort of thing that we didn’t want to pretend didn’t happen. Part of what the show is about is how you roll with things not turning out the way you want,” Enbom said. “At the end of the day, it proved to be a useful way to us to imagine why people end up still in this orbit. We didn’t know where it was going to be going when we started writing. It had already affected our lives for a year, so it was real enough that we knew this would definitely throw some people off track. And so we used that as part of our storytelling.”
That first episode also makes multiple on-screen acknowledgments of Casey Klein (Lizzy Caplan), the lone original main character not returning as a Season 3 regular. But just like Jane Lynch was able to return to the fold after “Glee” took her away from most of the show’s second season, Enbom is hopeful that Casey can make a return at some point in the near future.
“There was a little curveball in that Lizzy became unavailable during that process, so we had to kind of reinvent a certain amount of stuff,” Enbom said. “We love working with Lizzy, and we love the character, and we aren’t in any way dismissive. We still are interested in the idea of their relationship. So we wanted to imagine that she exists in the show, Henry still has his own feelings about what their relationship was, and everybody else does, too. We wanted to be able to keep that a part of it. Season 4, we will make sure that she doesn’t work again and make sure that she’s in it so we can explore that stuff.”
“Party Down” airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on Starz.