Monday, May 11, 2009

Just call me Mrs. Butterworth, Bitch

So recently I have stumbled onto something unexpected and inspired, and I had to share it with you. Like my Draft review this is less of trying to inform my few and far between readers and more so in a couple years I can hold up this post and say I got there first. Or at least early. Starz has a new television series (Starz makes TV shows? Holy shit.) I am a big fan of shows on pay cable, as is most anyone else intelligent, because it takes out two of the many forces that make today's TV suck so bad: the FCC and advertisers. Being on pay cable allows shows to portray( or exaggerate) real life in a way that rings more true than normal TV. I am as big of a fan of the Shield as anybody, and they certainly pushed more their share of boundaries, but a real life Vic Mackey would have snarled enough F-bombs to make Al Swearengen blush. So freedom from the FCC is good. Advertisers are a far more behind the scenes and insidious evil. Censorship is one thing, removing curse words or blurring out human flesh. Advertisers affect what is actually being written. To offer a Orwellian and Dick mixed metaphor pupu platter of dark sci-fi futures it is like Pre-Thought Crime. Knowing that any network or cable show has to make sure they do not offend their corporate masters writers and directors are put in a position where they censor themselves rather than try to buck the relentless might of Standards and Practices. Then what they do write is watered down even more. That's good for the product.

So we come to the happy place that is pay cable TV. There are far fewer spots for shows, but the ones that do exist can be edgy in a way unthinkable lower on the dial. Deadwood had its casual profanity. The Sopranos' hands were coated in a grimy blood. Entourage is a hit or miss creampuff made watchable occasionally by their remarkable ability to find smoking hot females to undress. Weeds tackles pot in a way that no corporate sponsor could ever agree to. People other than me liked Sex in the City for reasons that would not have worked on ABC. (I probably should have brought in a guest columnist to write that last bit of inspiring prose) All this is in the service of one thing. Making good TV. Premium channels work on a very simple equation. The better the show is, the more people are willing to sign up for their crappy cable channel. Capitalism at work. God Bless America.

The reason I am ranting about all of this is because premium TV has come up with yet another show that is genius. Its called Party Down. It shows a world I am somewhat familiar with: caterers. It follows a merry band of misfits who cater a different party every week. So far (I have watched the first 4 episodes) the show does not portray their lives outside of work at all. Each week the party they are catering wends its way into the narrative, with weekly guest stars who bring something new to the table for the regulars to bounce off of. The creative DNA of the show is strong, produced and sometimes written by Rob Thomas (no, not the Matchbox 20 douche), along with two other writers from Veronica Mars (look, I don't give a shit that the protagonist was a tiny little blonde girl who solved mysteries, that show was fucking awesome.) and Paul Rudd, who was originally was attached to play the lead but now is way too huge so he was ably replaced by Adam Scott. The series regulars were all instantly recognizable to me as a film and TV nerd.

There is Scott (from Stepbrothers and Six Feet Under) who plays a former aspiring actor Henry, returning to catering after scoring one commercial that makes him instantly almost recognizable to almost everyone, but not enough to get another gig. He has given up on acting and now goes through the motions as a bartender, life only made palatable by a self induced pill and booze haze. His near flatline expression is the baseline for the rest of the characters, the wry eye of a hurricane of desperation around him.

Next Ken Marino (Veronica Mars) who play Ron. Back in the day he and Henry had been running buddies, but now he has turned in his life of quiet desperation for one of very loud, loud desperation. Ron has gone corporate in every way, hoping somehow this will save him from his existence.

The excellent Jane Lynch (the horny older boss in 40 Year Old Virgin) plays Constance, a never was clinging to her dream, who sees herself as a mentor to the younger actors. Oh yeah, and she is completely insane. That part is probably funnier.

Ryan Hansen (also Veronica Mars) plays Kyle, a douchey wanna be actor/singer/model who looks and acts like he should be dating one of the oxygen wasters on "The Hills". Shallower than a puddle, he is actually redeemed in my eyes at the end of episode four that gives him a touch of sweetness to offset the overwhelming self obsession.

His natural rival is Roman, played by Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks) a pretentious screen writer who is absolutely convinced he is the smartest person in any room he walks into. I am hoping in the next couple episodes they give Starr a touch of heart to work with, the same they gave to Hansen's Kyle.

Lastly there is Casey, played by Lizzy Caplan (True Blood), a conflicted stand-up comedian who sparks off of the blank Henry, and utters the classic line of dialogue that titles this post.

All of these characters are well drawn, considering you only get to see them at work. Their respective neuroses clash and rebound off of each other, mowing down or ignoring the guests at the party, offering service only when coerced or cornered, and drinking or fucking or popping pills or smoking pot, anything to help them get through another day in the miserable life as an aspiring...whatever. This is showing the Hollywood meat grinder not through the eyes of those on top, but through the eyes of the hamburger.

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