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Party Down is a Work Com broadcast on the Starz network between 2009 and 2010. It follows a group of struggling actors and writers working a low-paying and humiliating job with the Party Down catering company while chasing their Hollywood dreams.
Each episode is structured around a different party they have been assigned to cater, with the lives of the affluent party hosts becoming entangled with the sad-sack lives of the caterers.
- Actor Allusion: For some of the series, Casey talks about how she's trying to get a spot in a Judd Apatow movie. In reality, Lizzy Caplan has been in several Apatow productions, and is part of his Production Posse.
- Adam Westing: Steve Guttenberg plays himself as an almost cartoonishly cheerful and generous host, who takes a group of strangers under his wing for a night. Then he steals one of their dates.
- Adaptation Decay:
- "Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen" involves a film adaptation of a graphic novel about Edgar Allan Poe as a vampire slayer. Roman and one of the girls at the party get miffed about the studio Bowdlerizing Poe's alcoholism and underage incestual relations.
- In "Joel Munt's Big Deal Party", a scif-fi author is enraged when he finds out the adaptation of his novel will be using Conspicuous CGI for a monster that isn't even visible. This instance is later discussed when Roman and Joel Munt argue over how you're supposed to successfully adapt a psychic gas-creature to film.
- Adult Child: Don, Ron's best friend from high school in "James Rolf High School Twentieth Reunion".
- Affectionate Nickname: Constance calls Patrick Duffy "Duffels" in "Constance Carmell Wedding".
- All Work vs. All Play: Henry vs. Ron. In season one, Ron is all work, Henry is all play; in the beginning of season two, their roles flip.
- Amazing Freaking Grace: In "James Ellison Funeral" (where else?).
- And Starring: Lizzy Caplan as Casey.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In "James Ellison Funeral", Kyle complains about his movie going straight to video, a lover not calling him back, and his X Box malfunctioning.
- As Himself: Steve Guttenberg and Patrick Duffy.
- Bastard Boyfriend: Casey's husband plays the part of the bastard boyfriend for the first few episodes of season 1 until they get a divorce.
- Berserk Button:
- Ron goes off when the group is in danger of getting poor client feedback cards or when his reputation is at stake. Examples of this include threatening to destroy the teen girl's life in "Willow Canyon Homeowners Annual Party" and desecrating the American Flag in "California College Conservative Union Caucus."
- Roman can't stand it when people mix up his precious science fiction with hated fantasy. He even ruins a sure thing with a porn star when she mentions that she likes dragons.
- Betty and Veronica: Henry with Uda and Casey. Uda is the Betty and Casey is the Veronica, although this applies more to the nature of his relationships with them than the characters' actual personalities.
- Be Yourself: What with the lampshaded resemblance to an afterschool special, this ends up as the moral of "Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen" as Taylor learns to take popularity less seriously and just have fun with the real, uncool friends she had before she became The Libby. Subverted when her cool friends do show up and she reverts to her bitchiness immediately.
- Bi the Way: At the end of season 1, Kyle tells a gay producer he would do anything for a part in a movie (and yes, it's implied what would happen), and in Season 2 the movie has been released. Also Roman is hinted as such every so often, having a guy giving him hickeys, to his relationship with his co-writer, and watching a guy masturbate. Also the 300 Gay test.
- Bigger Is Better in Bed: Possibly the one good thing to ever happen to Ron.
- Biggus Dickus: It was just a glimpse, but holy hell, Ron!
- Bland-Name Product: The Soup-R-Crackers soup/salad buffet Ron wants to open is likely a reference to Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes.
- Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Roman asks a student if this trope has any truth to it in "California College Conservative Union Caucus".
- Bourgeois Bohemian: Constance and her new friends in "Constance Carmell Wedding".
- Brainless Beauty: Kyle.
- Bratty Teenage Daughter: Lydia's daughter, Escapade.
- Break the Haughty:
- Roman does this when he tricks Kyle into shaving his eyebrows.
- Joe Munt, Roman's former writing partner, does this to Roman over the course of an episode.
- Brick Joke: In "Not On Your Wife Opening Night", Casey wonders aloud whether "cougar" means something else in the gay community. Later on, a gay actor attracted to Roman is referred to as a cougar.
- Butt Monkey: Kyle and Roman.
- Calvin Ball: The team-building game in "Brandix Corporate Retreat" involves blindfolds, pirate hats, suspended hula hoops, stacked boxes, plastic cup pyramids, Jenga, tire runs, punching bags, football dummies, and a cat plush toy. Casey has no idea what the fuck is going on in there.
- Career Versus Man:
- Casey has this dilemma in season 1, as evidenced in the episode "California College Conservative Union Caucus," when she has to choose between moving to Vermont with her husband or taking her chances as an actress in LA.
- This is also one of Henry's big conflicts, mainly explored in Season 2. He's clearly disheartened by his experiences, but also clearly loves acting. He struggles with choosing to either pack it up and go home or to give it one more try.
- Casting Couch:
- In "Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen", it appears that Mr. and Mrs. Stiltskin have a standing agreement that any boy-toy the missus beds gets a part in her husband's movies. Mrs. Stiltskin tries to get Kyle in bed but he has to awkwardly shy away from kissing because his teeth hurt after being bleached.
- Kyle uses this to get a role between the first and second seasons.
- Another past instance of Kyle's comes up in "Not On Your Wife Opening Night". In the same episode Casey attempts this by taking advantage of being Mistaken for Gay.
- Catch Phrase: Subverted. Henry was in a beer commercial where he said, "Are we having fun yet?" Whenever people recognize him they ask him to say it, which he hates doing.
- Celebrity Resemblance: A minor Running Gag with Lydia is her propensity for mistaking random people for celebrities.
- Chekhov's Gun: Lampshaded, then Kyled, with regards to Baretta's Beretta.
Ron: Okay, so, I'm putting this gun in a bag here, and it stays here, and nobody touches it for the rest of the evening.
- The Chew Toy: Ron is a pedantic, sycophantic, socially inept loser who thinks he may well be the next Donald Trump. He's also put through more mental and physical trauma than any other character on the show.
- Class Reunion: Party Down caters Ron's reunion in "James Rolf High School Twentieth Reunion".
- Cluster F-Bomb: Leonard Stiltskin's dialogue in "Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen Party" and "Precious Lights Pre-School Auction."
- Lampshaded by Roman at the end of "Sweet 16" when he assumes the customer feedback card to be nothing but insults, and gets it right word-for-word.
- Conspicuous Consumption: In "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday" Lydia reveals that if she had millions of dollars, the first things she'd do would be to throw a huge party, buy some shoes for herself, and buy a few hundred horses for her daughter.
- Control Freak: Uda Bengt.
- Cringe Comedy
- Cut Himself Shaving: As revealed in "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh", at some point in the past Ron was in a relationship with a co-worker and had a messy break-up. He apparently told Constance that the injuries were from stepping on a rake. And, well, they WERE from getting hit with a rake...
- The Cynic: Henry and, to a lesser extent, Casey.
- A Day in the Limelight: One episode has the crew catering a Russian(?) Mafia, where they are immediately recognized by all the work they have done (except Ron & Roman). They are treated like celebrities, and it gives Constance her "Big Break".
- Deadpan Snarker: In a show which is about marginalized people living downtrodden lives and regularly abasing themselves when serving food to people richer, more powerful and more successful than they are, this is pretty much a given. Casey and Henry do their fair share, but Roman is probably the best example.
(Discussing Henry's outfit)
- Department of Redundancy Department: In "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh":
Ricky: And so, I take from your example, I...turn to Ula and say, "Ula, will you be my wife?" (turns to Ula) Ula, will you be my wife?
- Diagonal Billing: Done for Adam Scott and Ken Marino in the closing credits.
- Did Not Do the Research: The football episode, although a minor one. At the beginning of the episode, the talking heads on the sports network announce that it's the fourth day of the draft, but at the end of the episode, Cole Landry ends up getting drafted by San Francisco at the end of the first round. The first round of the draft happens on the first day of the draft, and seldom takes longer than 3 hours.
- The Ditz: Constance in Season 1 and Lydia in season 2. Although both Jane Lynch and Megan Mullaly were playing a ditzy female character, both brought their own brands of ditziness.
- Doing It for the Art: Henry is implied to have been a talented actor who turned his back on acting after being unable to shed his image as a beer commercial mascot. Roman, similarly, is unable to sell any of his scripts because of his commitment to "Hard Sci-Fi," which apparently comes at the expense of quality.
- Drink Order:
- In "California College Conservative Union Caucus," the names of the drinks that Henry is serving, for example, the "freedom-tini."
- A cultured author and the Jerkass screenwriter desperate to please him raise a stink over the lack of Calvados in "Joel Munt's Big Deal Party".
- Drowning His Sorrows: Kyle in "Nick DiCintio's Orgy Night" after being on the receiving end of a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- Dumb Blonde: Kyle.
- Dyeing for Your Art: Roman uses this trope in "Willow Canyon Homeowners Annual Party" to trick Kyle into shaving all his hair (although Kyle only gets to do his left eyebrow before the scheme is revealed to him) by giving Kyle a fake voicemail that a character he's auditioning for is being rewritten as a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy.
- Europeans Are Kinky: Ron is approached by a European porno producer.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Whenever a character hopes they can get their big break this episode, you know it will end horribly for them.
- Farce: The eponymous play in "Not On Your Wife Opening Night". The plot of the actual episode also quickly devolves into a farce, which is lampshaded by Henry.
- Fee Fi Faux Pas: A repeated trope.
- In "Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen", poor Ron is too high to keep himself from saying "nigger" while hanging out with some rappers. Subverted--at the end of the episode, it seems to have actually made them all friends.
- In "James Ellison Funeral", Lydia asks awkwardly, loudly, and bluntly about how James Ellison died.
- In "Constance Carmell Wedding", the circumstances surrounding Danielle's parents' divorce means that Danielle and Ron can finally be together, but that doesn't change the fact that Ron just cheerfully told Danielle that her parents are getting divorced.
- Foreshadowing: In "Pepper McMasters Singles Seminar", Ron tells Constance and Henry a Scare'Em Straight story about a friend mixing prescription drugs and liquor and nearly dying. The same happens to Bruce.
- Gag Penis: Ron's is briefly visible as he hastily stuffs it back into his pants.
- Genius Bruiser: Roman is extremely irritated to meet a hulking college football player who is better-read than he is, as well as a pre-med student.
- Global Ignorance: Constance thinks that Toronto is part of the United States in "California College Conservative Union Caucus".
- Hey, It's That Guy!:
- In-universe. Henry is often recognized from his beer commercials.
- Kyle, Constance, and Casey also get recognized in "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh".
- Hilarious in Hindsight: In the 6th episode, Henry's old acting buddy Michael talks about playing Edgar Allan Poe in an adaptation of a graphic novel where Poe an Lincoln deal with mystical amulets and vampires. Considering an adaptation of both Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and a fictionalized thriller version involving Poe entitled The Raven are about to come out, this isn't quite as far fetched.
- Hollywood Nerd: Roman.
- Hookers and Blow: Joel Munt in "Joel Munt's Big Deal Party" is obsessed with it.
- In "Pepper McMasters Singles Seminar", Constance finds old people repulsive despite hardly being a spring chicken herself.
- In "Celebrate Rick Sargulesh", Roman actually has the nerve to call out Henry for sleeping with Casey when Roman had dibs and for sleeping with a co-worker in the same conversation.
- Ron calls Henry out on this repeatedly in season two whenever Henry tries to get Ron to act professional on the job.
- Ice Queen: Uda Bengt.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode's title derives from whatever event the group is catering that episode.
- Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance: Kyle, Ron, Constance and Lydia.
- I Know Mortal Kombat: Reading porn turns out to make Roman into an excellent orgy coordinator in "Nick DiCintio's Orgy Night".
- Important Haircut: While Ron is a slacker, he wears his hair shaggy. When he's an insufferable jobsworth, he sports his signature flat-top.
- Inelegant Blubbering: James Ellison's secret lover in "James Ellison Funeral".
- Informed Ability: Averted with Henry's acting. You hear a comment here and there about his talent and then he blows everyone away in "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday Party".
- Informed Judaism: Casey Klein's religion is never brought up in season one. In season two, she makes two references to being Jewish, though it never factors into her actions at all. Actress Lizzy Caplan is Jewish in real life.
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": In "Steve Guttenburg's Birthday", Kyle thinks "Nietzsche" is pronounced "Niche". He also thinks "velour" is pronounced "vel-hour".
- It's Personal: Lydia's notes for "Wesley Snipes"'s movie in "Joel Munt's Big Deal Party" involves adding several layers of this trope.
- Jerkass: Roman, and also most of the hosts of parties. But not Steve Guttenberg.
- Just Friends: Henry and Casey for much of the series, especially after they first sleep with each other.
- Large Ham: Most people belonging to the community theater in "Not On Your Wife Opening Night".
- Literary Allusion Title: One of the people at "Joel Munt's Big Deal Party" is working on a movie called Pride and Prejudice. It's a Buddy Cop Movie; one of the cops is a white racist and the other is a rapper.
- Love Triangle: Henry, Casey, Uda.
- Manly Tears: According to the Oral History of Party Down, Adam Scott (Henry) cried when the show was canceled.
- Marijuana Is LSD: Roman accidentally eats three marijuana muffins and goes on some kind of cosmic journey of introspection in "Constance Carmell Wedding".
- Matzo Fever: None of the other male waiters are Jewish, but they all have the hots for the smoking Semite Casey Klein.
- May-December Romance: Constance and her fiance Howard in "Constance Carmell Wedding". Howard's daughter shows up halfway into the party and turns out to be Constance's age.
- Meaningful Name: Constance is named for the fact that in her pursuit of her dreams and her optimism, she's completely constant.
- Mistaken for Racist:
- An offended black couple walk out in "Willow Canyon Homeowners Annual Party" when Ron loudly tells Henry not to ever serve two jiggers.
- Kyle sings a song with lyrics that have unintentional Nazi overtones to an audience predominantly composed of Jews.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Occasionally discussed. Roman obnoxiously puts down anything he perceives as "soft" sci-fi.
- Moment Killer: Ron is making some progress on the former class president in "James Rolf High School Twentieth Reunion" when Kyle and Roman barge in arguing over Cool Versus Awesome.
- Mushroom Samba: Over the course of the series, there is at least one instance for every character in which they're tripping on some substance, either inadvertently or on purpose.
- Naked People Are Funny: Hell, it's enough to make an otherwise horrifying tale of skull fractures hilarious in "Pepper McMasters Singles Seminar". Or at least stoned-out-of-their-minds Constance and old paramour Bruce think so.
- The Neidermeyer: Ron.
- Never Heard That One Before: Are we having fun yet?
- No Except Yes: "This is not a retreat--it's an advance!" in "Brandix Corporate Retreat".
- No Sense of Personal Space: Constance.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In "Joel Munt's Big Deal Party", Lydia shares light conversation with one of the attendees in the bathroom and remarks that she "came in here to powder my nose, but I can't find the stuff." The attendee lends Lydia her compact...which is full of cocaine. Later on she asks a different woman the same thing and actually receives makeup.
- Only Sane Employee: Casey.
- Only Sane Man: Henry.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: Played with in "California College Conservative Union Caucus".
- Some of the attendees are pointedly non-politically correct because they champion free speech--for example, one short guy encourages Casey to call him "shrimp".
- Meanwhile, Constance gets offended at one attendee's gay joke when the punchline doesn't actually have anything to do with homosexuality in itself. Also, the guy who told the joke is gay. Then she gets mad about a black attendee not getting to vote on an issue at the party (the problem isn't his race, it's the fact that he's a non-citizen) and thinks the attendees have problems with women having free speech when they correct her.
- Political Stereotype: Zigzagged in "California College Conservative Union Caucus". The attendees are certainly conservative--annoyingly so--but the worst part of the stereotype is subverted when they're proven to not be homophobic or racist. But then a couple gets in a bullheaded argument about family values versus a political career.
- Popular Is Dumb: Kyle.
- Production Posse:
- Many of the actors have past connections with Rob Thomas, in particular with Veronica Mars. Ryan Hansen (Kyle) and Kristen Bell (Uda) were main characters, Ken Marino (Ron) had a recurring role, Adam Scott (Henry) and Jane Lynch (Constance) guest starred. Enrico Colantoni and Jason Dohring, both main characters on Veronica Mars, guest starred in episodes 1 and 2, respectively. Ed Begley Jr., who had a recurring role in season 3 of Veronica Mars, guest starred in episode 3. Also, Daran Norris (Cliff) and Ryan Devlin (Mercer) show up in episode 4.
- Several of the stars and guest stars have also been associated with Apatow productions: Martin Starr, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch, Adam Scott, Ken Jeong, Kristen Bell, & Christopher Mintz-Plasse.
- Various members of The State appear in one-shot roles. Ken Marino is a veteran of that group.
- Put on a Bus: Constance after episode 8 of season 1 due to the actress's conflicting schedule with Glee. The Bus Came Back at the end of season 2, for her wedding.
- Raging Stiffie: Kyle spikes Roman's drink with a ground-up Viagra in "Pepper McMasters Singles Seminar" to get back at him for the incident detailed in "Dyeing for Your Art". However, there still has to be real arousal for the erection to start, making for a Brick Joke during The Tag.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Kyle gets a pretty deflating one from a struggling actress he's hitting on about how he's just as much of a failure as her in "Nick DiCintio's Orgy Night", leading him to Drown His Sorrows.
- Right Through His Pants: Both averted and played straight.
- Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The staff caters an event for a gang of Eastern European gangsters of unspecified ethnicity, though the name "Zoltan" suggests that they're Hungarian. They're celebrating their leader getting away with murder, and the staff has reason to suspect that they're plotting another.
- Self-Deprecation: "James Ellison Funeral":
Henry: Most actors aren't very bright, so it has to be simple.
- Sensitivity Training: Ron in "Willow Canyon Homeowners Annual Party."
Ron: I learned things that blew my mind. The term Mexican? Not offensive.
- Serious Business:
- Valhalla Catering, Party Down's rival catering company, is intense.
- Roman takes everything way too seriously. He accuses someone of making a mockery of the body shot in "Nick DiCintio's Orgy Night".
- "James Ellison Funeral" has a discussion about what a black person lusting after white people would be called, since "jungle fever" is only for whites who like blacks.
Roman: "Temperate deciduous fever"? "Fjord fever"?
- "Shut Up" Kiss: Casey to Henry in "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday".
- Sitcom Character Archetypes:
- The Wisecracker: Henry/Casey
- The Bully/Charmer: Kyle
- The Square: Ron
- The Dork: Roman
- The Goofball: Constance/Lydia
- The Slacker: Henry in season 1, Ron in the early parts of season 2.
- Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Happens twice during Constance's wedding, the second time for the wrong couple.
- Squick: In-universe--Henry visibly shudders when Ron discusses semen shooting up and hanging off of the edge of his bike helmet in "Cole Landry's Draft Day Party".
- Stage Mom: Lydia.
- Stereotype Reaction Gag: Unintentionally implemented in an attempt to avert it by Ron in episode 1. Having just attended a racial sensitivity seminar, he spends the episode avoiding anything that can be construed as using stereotypes.
(An African-American man at the party drops a piece of chicken on the floor, Ron picks it up)
- The Stoner: Ron makes frequent allusions to his past as a stoner. In the first part of Season 2 he reverts to his old ways until getting trapped in a coffin while smoking in "James Ellison Funeral."
- Straight Man: Henry, usually.
- Straight Gay: Cole and Jerome in "Cole Landry's Draft Day Party".
- Stripper Cop Confusion: In "Pepper McMasters Singles Seminar" with both a cop and a nurse.
- Stupid Boss: Ron.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Lydia replaces Constance in season two. They're both weird ditzes. Lydia eventually gets more fleshed out and she moves away from being too similar to Constance, but the fact that she replaced her is lampshaded in "Constance Carmell Wedding".
- The Tag
- Tear Jerker: In-universe, Henry's performance at "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday".
- The Teaser
- Technician Versus Performer: Kyle and Roman are constantly arguing about this; in this case Roman, as a writer, is the technician and Kyle is the performer.
- Techno Babble: Roman's scripts brim with it at the cost of actual plot or emotional resonance.
- A Threesome Is Manly: Roman does not think so.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Just as Ron bemoans his fate to a seemingly callous and unfeeling God, fate intervenes. It's still not completely without humiliation and pain though.
- Tomato in the Mirror: When Roman consumes a large quantity of marijuana, he starts ranting about his new idea "and when they get to the planet, they realize the alien civilization is themselves!"
- Too Much Information: In their first conversation together, Lydia tells Casey that her ex-husband is sexist, racist (yet had an affair with a black woman), anti-Semite, and homophobic.
- Totally Radical: Lydia has apparently had some odd encounters due to misuse of "cougar" and "bear" in her online dating profile.
- True Companions: Despite all the bickering, the team actually does have some modicum of this, as demonstrated by everyone getting entangled in Roman's revenge plot in "Joel Munt's Big Deal Party".
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot:
- Ron downs a bottle of whiskey a la Bluto Blutarsky in Animal House. It ends exactly how you expect it would.
- A company picnic champion learns that there are downsides to winning the hot dog-eating contest just before a softball game.
- Waiting for a Break: All of the main characters are waiting for their big break, with the exception of Henry, who has given up. Casey is an aspiring comedic actress. Ryan is an aspiring actor/musician/model. Roman is an aspiring writer. Ron is aspiring to run a "Soup-R-Crackers" chain restaurant. Constance is a former B-movie actress who is still on the prowl for roles. Lydia is completely invested in getting her daughter's big break.
- What Could Have Been: Paul Rudd and Steve Carell were originally attached to play Henry and Ron when the show was first being developed (circa 2004), but moved on while it was stuck in Development Hell. Rudd, however, remained attached as a producer.
- Writers Suck:
- Kyle brushes off Roman as a writer in "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh".
- The community theater actors in "Not On Your Wife Opening Night" pointedly avert this attitude, kissing up to Roman and proclaiming that in theater, the writer is God.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: Happens to all the characters at least once. Some standout examples:
- Henry in "Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen" nearly gets a major supporting role in a big-budget movie.
- In season two, Casey finally gets her Judd Apatow role only to find out her scene was cut in "Constance Carmell Wedding".