Canceled TV Cavalcade: Party Down (2009-2010)

I don’t remember exactly when my wife and I tried watching Party Down for the first time. I think it was before we finished Veronica Mars (possibly before we even started) and might have even been while she was still pregnant. We watched the first two episodes of the show about a group of LA carterers who all want to be doing something else and then stopped. I’ll get to why in a bit.

To break things down, you’ve got Ken Marino playing the very enthusiastic boss who wants to own his own salad restaurant franchise, Adam Scott plays a former actor just trying to make ends meet, Lizzy Caplan wants to be a comedian/actress, Martin Starr wants to write hard sci-fi screenplays, Jane Lynch was an actress and Ryan Hansen also wants to be an actor. Each episodes features the gang working some kind of event from a funeral to an NFL draft party and sweet 16s to singles parties. The events themselves lead to various misunderstandings, but there are also overarching stories about these people, their relationships and what’s going on outside of work.

Much like Louie, a show whose first season I watched and wrote about over on my dad blog Pop Poppa, the thing that makes Party Down click for me is how real it gets at times. Sure, there are the usual sticky relationships between some of the caterers, but  there are also some real moments of camaraderie between these people who would otherwise not even know one another.

The moments that got to me the most, though were the ones closest to home. Seeing as how the cast of characters is essentially made up of people trying to follow their very-difficult-to-attain dreams, there are several moments throughout the 20 episode series where they question whether their goals are actually attainable or not. As someone who would love to get his act together and write a book or a screenplay, I can completely relate to this. When is it time to finally give up and move on to a job at the Post Office or something? Or isn’t there a time? The great thing about this series is that, one of these low points actually takes place at an awkwardly planned orgy party.

The reason my wife and I stopped watching Party Down the first time around is because the second episode isn’t very good. The mostly liberal caterers find themselves working a college conservative party that Governor Schwarzenneger is supposed to attend. The political angel is actually fine, but Marino’s arc in the episode is just ridiculous and involves him not only dealing with one ruined flag that’s supposed to be given to the governor, but later taking a different flag, dirtying it on the ground right out in front of the party and accidentally setting it on fire. It sounds like something out of an old slapstick movie. I’ve got no problem with slapstick, but it just doesn’t fit the overall tone of the show and didn’t make me want to keep watching. I know a few other people I’ve talked to stalled out here, but I really recommend powering through or just skipping that one and moving on through the rest of the series.

Cancelled TV Cavalcade: Kitchen Confidential (2005)

Back in 2005, I had no idea who Anthony Bourdain was, so he wasn’t the draw for me when it came to watching Fox’s Kitchen Confidential. It was all about the cast for me. I had seen Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers, one of my all time favorite movies. Sure he played a heel, but you could tell there was a ton of charisma under that douchey role. In addition to Cooper, the show also featured Nicholas Brendon, better known as Xander from Buffy (another favorite series) and John Frances Daley who I first dug in the amazing Freaks & Geeks and later in Waiting… where he played pretty much the same part (kitchen newbie). The cast also included John Cho who I probably wasn’t familiar with yet, Frank Langella (yeah, Skeletor), the lovely Jamie King and Sam Pancake who played Barry Zuckerkorn’s assistant on Arrested Development (another favorite). That’s a lot of goodness all in one package.

After getting really into Bourdain’s show No Reservations and remembering liking the few episodes I saw, I suggested to the missus that we watch the show. It was only two discs through traditional Netflix, but we still burned through them pretty quickly. The title of the show is based on Bourdain’s 2000 memoir and Cooper’s character share’s the famous chef’s name. The plot of the show revolves around Cooper’s washed up rock star chef getting another shot at running a restaurant thanks to Langella’s good faith. Cooper then puts together a team that includes Brendon, Cho and a few others. The key, though, is that Cooper needs to do everything on the up and up because he sees this as his last chance at this kind of opportunity. Another aspect of the show I really enjoyed aside from the performances and comedy, of which there’s a great deal, was it’s various philosophical points about food and cooking. Cooper’s voiceover often reminded me of those scenes in Ratatouille where Remy describes how two different foods taste together. There’s lots of insight from the point of view of cook which I find really interesting. I’m not sure if these things are taken straight from the book (I’ve got my eye out for a copy) or if they were written for the show, but I liked the insight. As my role in our kitchen has gotten more prominent, I find myself drawn towards the world of cooking and restaurants a lot more than ever before, so a kind of insider look at the biz was a lot of fun for me.

We really enjoyed watching the series’ 13 episodes and I highly recommend checking it out. By combining a few well worn elements like a workplace drama and a guy looking to make up for past indiscretions, Kitchen Confidential wound up being something unique and fun. I’m pretty surprised the show didn’t do well, but considering Fox’s past with shows like Firefly and Arrested Development, it should come as no surprise that something with so much potential got the axe so early.