The Netflix Files: December 8, 2011

Everyone in the whole world agrees that Arrested Development was a brilliant show cancelled before its time. Those very same people are now up in arms about the fate of Community, which was recently put on hiatus midseason by NBC.

Vulture takes a rational look at the announcement and deduces that there’s a 70-30 chance that the show will see a Season 4. But if it does, will we demand that an even unlikelier Season 5 come next year (or, more accurately, six-seasons-and-a-movie)? Don’t get me wrong, I think Community is one of the funniest, smartest, bestest comedies on television, but when the study group graduates, where do they go next? Do they resort to teaching, like Dr. Cox and Turk in that last season of Scrubs we’d all like to pretend doesn’t exist? Does Ed Helms eventually take over and pretend no one notices that he’s pulling the exact same schtick as the last guy? Will anyone still give a fuck who the mother is?

I’m firmly in the camp that Community should be granted the four years necessary for a Greenvale diploma, but after that it might be time to call it quits. A show overextending its welcome is far worse than being prematurely cancelled. The entire basis of Community, as showrunner Dan Harmon conceived of it, warrants four years and nothing more (except maybe an awesome post-series movie).

Party Down (2009-2010) is widely considered another brilliant-show-cancelled-before-its-time. It aired on Starz, where it received almost no attention, and it’s known mainly for featuring a pre-Glee Jane Lynch, who ditched the show when Fox came calling. It follows the antics of a catering crew that works various absurd events, ranging from Pepper McMasters Single Seminar to the Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception. Party Down was smart, witty and endearing – it also ends on the perfect note, after two seasons and twenty episodes total.

Henry (Adam Scott, lately of Parks & Rec) is, like most of his Party Down co-workers, an actor who can’t get a break. He spends his time administering drinks to a variety of outlandish guests, learning valuable lessons about himself and his career in the process. His near-constant state of dejection is countered by the misplaced enthusiasm of hapless team leader Ron Donald (Ken Marino, Marcus Mumford doppelganger). The comedy takes on a surprising existential tone, as the waiters face the growing likelihood that they will never reach their life goals.

There’s also a revolving door of guest stars at each party. The most readily recognizable celebrities include Ken Jeong, Kristen Bell, George Takei, Thomas Lennon, Paul Scheer and Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse, but most episodes have at least one familiar face.

It was a cruel fate that Party Down lasted only two seasons, but perhaps for the best. Each episode is set at one event, and it’s a feat in itself to have twenty wildly different scenarios (there are never two Bar Mitzvahs, for example, which works to keep everything fresh). Also, more importantly, the show basically is Party Down Catering. The actors that headline the show haven’t yet had their big break (akin to their fictional counterparts), and the little-seen Starz comedy, like the catering company, is the room they wait in while they fantasize about being discovered. Jane Lynch tendered her resignation when she was offered her career-making role on Glee. Adam Scott wouldn’t have been able to continue past Season 2, having accepted his regular role on a broadcast series, Parks & Rec. The bittersweet final moment in Party Down – the only scene in the series not to take place at the episode’s event – reflects this waiting-room notion to a tee. Twenty episodes was all the show ever needed.

Party Down is available for your viewing pleasure (and reading-period procrastination) on Netflix Watch Instantly.

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