Take This Job and Shove It

Hugging it out with the cast of 'Party Down'

From left: Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Ryan Hansen, Lizzy Caplan, and Adam Scott at the Alamo Drafthouse's <i>Party Down</i> reunion party
From left: Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Ryan Hansen, Lizzy Caplan, and Adam Scott at the Alamo Drafthouse's Party Down reunion party (Photo courtesy of Jack Plunkett)

The term "rat race" had been coming up a lot recently – in conversation, in memoriam. How to escape, whether to take that second (or third or fourth) job. When to give up/in/out. How the rat race will eventually leave us enslaved to a cubicle body-farm, where billionaire robots hunt us for sport. The modern American workplace has a way of pushing you off the plank into these reveries.

Like many current television comedies, Party Down captures the desperate side of the rat race, the dashed dreams and deflation, but from the viewpoint of "artists" working in the service industry. They often call it the "grind" on the show, which features a different catered Hollywood party each episode. For anyone who's worked in the industry, Party Down's pitch is instantly recognizable, but it's also indicative of our general malaise: What does it take to "make it," and is it even worth it?

The show's success lies in its ensemble: a has-been actor whose catchphrase haunts him (Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott); a misanthropic sci-fi nerd (Freaks and Geeks' Martin Starr); a blond, clueless wannabe actor (Veronica Mars' Ryan Hansen) and his female counterpart (Jane Lynch in season one); a struggling comedian (Lizzy Caplan); and their court jester of a boss (Ken Marino).

Their white shirts and pink bow ties are equalizers, and the chemistry is indelible. Creators Rob Thomas, John Enbom, and Dan Etheridge no doubt took The Office and The Larry Sanders Show in heavy doses, but their idea for scripted "crealism" (comedy realism) is fully realized in every awkward silence and ridiculous fuckup.

The show lasted two seasons on Starz, the Pluto of cable, but the sold-out, daylong Party Down marathon and reunion last Sunday at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz proved how popular the show has become postmortem. (Sorry, there won't be a third season, but possibly a movie, and possibly the movie will be called Season Three?) It also shows how popular Adam Scott has become: At Saturday's preparty at the HighBall, it took him close to 20 minutes to get through a crowd of iPhone-ready fans, but maybe he was a buffer for Nick Offerman.

The creators and cast (sub out Lynch for Offerman's wife, Megan Mullally, who played Lydia in season two) gave me 10 minutes and a group hug Sunday afternoon. Here are a few bits.

Austin Chronicle: Did the idea for the show come from hands-on experience or just a concept you thought would be funny?

John Enbom: A little of both. We all got really excited about the original British Office, that aesthetic as a way to do comedy. And when we hit on this idea for cater waiters who were chasing other things while doing this job, it resonated with us in Hollywood. How long do you chase something down? The Office is very much about people giving in to the rat race, and this was the flip side, with America being a much more aspirational place.

AC: All the characters have this quality that's both endearing and frustrating. How much of that was there already?

Adam Scott: They'd already written the script, so we all kind of joined up with the characters fully formed. As with any show, after a while they start writing to you.

Megan Mullally: I came in the second season, so it was a little different for me. Lydia is such a people-pleaser, but I'm trying to get better about it. I'm in therapy.

AC: Improvisation?

Scott: The scripts were so strong, there was really no need for it.

Lizzy Caplan: There was a light sprinkling of it.

AC: Favorite episode?

Ken Marino: I like a number of the first episodes of Lost.

Martin Starr: The second season though, they really fell off.

Mullally: I really like the theatre episode ["Not on Your Wife Opening Night"].

Caplan: Everyone liked "Guttenberg."

Scott: I liked the season one finale, too.

Caplan: All the episodes; we love all the episodes.

Scott: It's like Billy Joel picking a favorite song.

Marino: Yeah, you've got "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," you've got "Piano Man" ....

For video footage from the Party Down reunion, see austinchronicle.com/pip.

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Party Down, Adam Scott, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Ryan Hansen, Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino, Rob Thomas, John Enbom, Dan Etheridge

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