How do you mark the passage of a dozen years with a reboot/relaunch when part of the original’s charm is in how the characters were seemingly stuck in their nowhere jobs nursing fading aspirations while just trying to get by? That was the main question I had going into the long-awaited third season of Party Down (which returns tonight on Starz), a cult series/comedy nerd litmus test from the pre-stream era. Luckily, series creator John Enboom doesn’t make us wait too long, advancing the story immediately while also presenting the central go-nowhere cater-waiter jobs as a sort of magnet pulling those lucky enough to break free back into its orbit. But hey, misery loves company, right?
For Adam Scott, the show’s lead who went on to become part of one of TV’s most beloved pairs beside Amy Poehler on Parks And Rec before becoming a tortured office drone in Severance, it wasn’t hard to refind the unifying imposter syndrome that drove his performance as talented but burnt out Henry Pollard. It’s something we discussed when we spoke recently ahead of the show’s return, in addition to getting his thoughts on whether he ever gave up on the dream of a reunion, and why it wouldn’t have worked as the long-ago planned movie. Freed from being asked by people like me about when the show is coming back, however, we also honored the roles of TV journo and actor by gently touching on the mysterious Severance before getting the known and noted U2 pundit’s take on what hits him as the band’s most important song.
You’re not going to have people asking you about when Party Down is coming back anymore, big congratulations on that. I’m sure you’ve been asked that a thousand times.
That’s so true. Almost every interview since 2010, I get asked. And it’s great because it means people care, but you’re right. That’s so funny.
Did you ever think this wasn’t going to come back?
100%. Yeah, there was a chunk of years there where we just figured it was never going to happen because right after it ended in 2010, like 2011, 2012, we were pretty close to making the Party Down movie. And then that just ended up falling apart. And honestly, my gut feeling then was relief. Not because it wouldn’t have been cool. John (Enboom) wrote a terrific script. It was really good, really funny, and everything you would want in a Party Down movie. It just sort of occurred to us that maybe Party Down shouldn’t be a movie.
One of the great things about it is the central conceit of the show, the device of one party per episode, new circumstances, new environment, new cast of characters for our main people to deal with. That all just sort of goes out the window if it’s a movie. I mean, you could have three parties or two parties or whatever. But then it’s like, are you going to go to Casey’s apartment? Are you going to go to Henry’s place? Do you want to see their apartments? Do you want to see Kyle doing his laundry? Or do we just want to see them at the party with their pink bow ties on doing stupid stuff? So, then we were thinking maybe we’ll do some episodes. And it was pre-streaming, so it was challenging to think about how to do that. And so, then there was a period of years there where we just figured it was never going to happen, even though we all really wanted to (do it). But then we all did this Vulture reunion a few years ago. And it was just sort of magical. Being in a room together was super fun and that’s when we started seriously talking about figuring something out.
Was the urge to come back an unfinished business thing because of the way it ended (not entirely on your guys’ terms), or was it more just, it’s fun and you just wanted to keep the flame alight to work together again?
It ended prematurely, I think for all of us. I think we all felt like we would’ve kept doing it forever, I think. Every single one of us, we loved it so much. And I think part of it is that we all connected pretty directly with the circumstances that these characters were in with the idea of trying to achieve your dream in show business and success being just out of reach. I mean, we just all had our faces pressed up against the glass in 2008 when we made the show.
And we didn’t have any expectations about it being anything. We didn’t even think anyone would see it. We just loved doing it for each other, for ourselves. It was just fun. And we felt it was special. And John was writing these incredible scripts, so we all wanted to keep doing it. I think part of the need over the years to try and find a way to do it was chasing that feeling again.
Last time we spoke I asked you about when you got past that feeling of having your face pressed up against the glass and you mentioned the 2010-2012 Parks and Rec, Party Down, Step Brothers era. Now, you’re removed from that by 10 or so years, well-established. Is it hard to feel that (sense of struggle) and to still connect with this character as much?
No. And you would think it would be, but it’s really not. It’s always there right beneath the surface. No matter what, you still feel exactly the same. Just last night, I was shooting Severance. And I was in the middle of a scene just thinking, “What am I doing? I suck. This is ridiculous. When am I going to be found out?” And that just sort of never goes away. And so, it wasn’t hard to locate at all.
I think you all did a great job working around Lizzy Caplan’s absence. Can you tell me a little bit about that and bringing Jennifer Garner on?
Yeah, we were all bummed when Lizzy couldn’t do it, including her. But it just wasn’t possible schedule-wise. And this six weeks we had carved out was the only time we’d be able to make the show with everybody, with the entire cast, and didn’t know if we would get a chance again. So, when Lizzy couldn’t do it, John kind of went away for a weekend and figured out how to handle it. And I think, like you said, he came up with the perfect way to handle it, a perfect way for it to fit into the Party Down world and the ethos of the show.
And then for the character of Evie, we were always talking about someone like Jennifer Garner, like a Jennifer Garner type to play this really impressive woman, but never thinking that we would have a shot at actually getting Jennifer Garner to be on Party Down. But someone had the idea, “Let’s just try. Let’s just offer it to her.” And we just Hail Mary-ed it to her, figuring she’ll pass and then we’ll find the person to play Evie. And to all of our surprise, she actually wanted to do it, so it was great. And she just arrived on set, just ready to go and just so funny. And we all know what a great actor she is, but she is just hilarious, and if you watch some of her more comedic performances, you know how funny she is. So, it wasn’t a surprise. It was just a delight.
Shows that have a captivating central mystery to them — a Lost, Yellowjackets, and now Severance — I’m always curious if the outside voices get into the process, once they move from season one where you guys are in a vacuum to season two when it’s been out in the world. As you are all going through season two, is there any sense of that? Do you feel like anything has changed?
You mean as far as fan theories and stuff?
Fan theories and the influence of having everyone be focused on the mystery as opposed to when you guys were just creating it kind of off to the side. Is there any sense of pressure (with that much attention) now?
Yeah, of course. I think the main difference is that now everything has to be a secret, whereas before no one cared. Soon after the show came out, I remember Ben (Stiller) and I talking about how weird it is that we have to be so secretive. And people know what an innie and outie is. It’s just bizarre because like you said, we made it in a vacuum and no one cared. We were just making this weird little show. I would say that’s the main difference. I think everything else is pretty much going as planned.
Now someone’s off to the side with a blow dart in case you divulge too much, like a Marvel movie.
That’s right. That’s right.
Last time, I asked you about what the most important REM song was to you. This time I’d like to know what the most important U2 song is for you?
I think that “Miracle Drug” is still a favorite of mine (from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb). And it was never a single or anything. It’s just, I always found it an emotionally resonant song. But it’s also catchy. It has this great hook to it.
And I really love “Red Hill Mining Town” and “In God’s Country” and “One Tree Hill” — those Joshua Tree songs. I love that run on side two, partly because it’s not as kind of worn out as the side one songs, which are also incredible, but we’ve just heard them much more.
‘Party Down’ season 3 makes its long-awaited return on Starz Friday, February 24.