by Linda Holmes
The Starz comedy Party Down (which we previously discussed here) returns tonight at 10:00 p.m. for its second season -- but you can already watch the season premiere online or, in lots of places, on demand.
The big change from the first season to the second, personnel-wise, is that Jane Lynch has been entirely lost to her job on Glee -- which is great for Glee, but very sad for Party Down. What's remarkable, though, is that they've done such a stellar job with the addition of another female character -- I wouldn't say "replacing," because ... they are very different women -- that it softens the blow considerably.
New blood, and why this might be the show for David Brent fans, after the jump.
The new blood comes in the form of Megan Mullally, who became so closely identified with Karen Walker during her run on Will & Grace that she might be perceived as actually being Karen Walker. Here, though, she plays Lydia, who is very different from Karen, but who is just as funny as Karen was on her best day.
Lydia is a nosy, socially awkward, eternally chipper member of the catering team whose chatter often takes the form of agonizing, cringe-inducing "and another thing" verbal catastrophes: "Ed, my ex, hates Whoopi Goldberg. He said that women shouldn't do comedy, because they're not naturally funny. ...And he has issues with blacks. ...So why he would have an affair with one [laughs heartily] ... that is a question for a psychologist." She's so weird, so inappropriate, and so perfectly played by Mullally that she fits right in from the very first scene, despite being given very little introduction beyond what amounts to "Boom, here's the new lady." That bit I just described is funny in a script, but it's her timing that makes it so simultaneously wonderful and awful that you sort of want to crawl under a blanket while laughing your head off.
A couple of other things have changed, too -- Ron (Ken Marino) has hit the skids now that he's not team leader anymore, and Henry (Adam Scott) is trying to establish himself as the boss. But mostly, it's the same collection of wackadoodles and weird situations in which the show specialized in its first season.
It's rated TV-MA for good reason, so this is not the comedy for your 11-year-old, but it remains one of the sharpest and oddest comedies on television. Co-creator Rob Thomas recently said during a panel discussion that the British version of The Office was a huge influence on the development of Party Down, which makes perfect sense. This is a workplace comedy about oddballs that is substantially darker and more truly unhinged than the U.S. version of The Office, which added warmth and heart that lots of viewers love, but others would just as soon do without.
If you like the oddball co-workers on workplace shows to be genuinely uncomfortable and awkward with each other, rather than secretly being almost like family, you may actually be looking for Party Down.