As I've been promising for a couple of weeks, here's a combined transcript of interviews I did with "Party Down" producers Rob Thomas and John Enbom. Because of my schedule this week, I didn't have time to do a separate review of the season finale, featuring a long-awaited Veronica Mars/Dick Casablancas reunion, but feel free to discuss the episode here, along with general thoughts on this hilarious season.
The transcript (and I re-arranged things so that Rob and John's answers to the same question would be together) coming up just as soon as I direct you to the bathroom...
How happy are you with how the season played out?
Rob: Extremely happy. We went into it very very rushed, not knowing whether we had the time to write the scripts and be ready in time. Starz asked us when we could be ready to go if they ordered the series, we gave them a date, then we dickered on the terms of the deal and the budget for a couple of months, then they said, "Okay, go." "When we said two months ago we could have it ready then, we thought it meant we would be starting then." For John, it was a really speedy process, burning the candle at both ends. We're really pleased with the show in a first year. In a potential season two, we would have more time to write, we would know the actors better. All of this was written prior to knowing who would be in it. Constance is barely in the porn party episode, and I think had we known we had gotten Jane (Lynch) and seen what she was doing, we never would have done an episode where you wouldn't see her that little.
John: I'm really happy with it. Having worked enough in television to know how much chemistry, in the biggest regard, plays a part in the success of how things work. I think we got a great cast, great crew -- everybody got it in a way that really exceeded my expectations in how smoothly things would come along. For me, stepping in and trying to run things day to day, there was a large possibility of everything going bananas. So the fact that it didn't was good.
How did John wind up running the show?
John: Kind of by dint of being the one person who was free to do it. Basically, we got the offer from Starz at a point when Rob was finishing two pilots, and the "90210" thing was in some kind of play. So he and Dan Etheridge were in very over their heads, we were all excited to do it, but Rob didn't feel up to taking on the showrunner responsibilities of a fourth show. So Rob asked, "If this does happen, how would you feel wiggling out of your current writing job to write this?" Which I jumped at, I was on "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," and they very graciously allowed me to run off and do this. (Rob and Dan) were swamped doing "Cupid" at the time, so it really ended up with me as the only guy who could do it.
What's Jane's availability going to be for next season, given that she's now under contract to "Glee" and Fox?
Rob: We're planning on pleading our case with "Glee" and Fox. If there's a glimmer of hope, we want to pursue it. We love Jane, the person. We love Jane, the actress. Finding out she might not be able to return just as we get the pickup up, well, Alanis Morissette knows where we're coming from -- it's kinda like rain on your wedding day.
John: But not as "ironic" -- just a straight-up bummer.
The season ends with many of the characters either leaving Party Down or being in position where they could leave. Was that by design?
Rob: Yes. It was absolutely by design. We had everyone in a one year deal. So we had to prepare ourselves for the potential of losing any of our actors.
So how are you going to deal with bringing them all back together next season?
John: I think we're just going to use the natural passage of time, to just pick up the chips where they've fallen. Some will be easier than others. But I think we established Casey would be gone for six months. She can be back. It's always possible to figure out how somebody's big break turns into not their big break. We've been batting around ideas of what happens to Ron and his Soup 'R Crackers. Thinking up a way for Ron to screw something up doesn't seem that much of a stretch. One of the things that we're looking at is just to see how does Henry deal with this evolution of being promoted further into a world he never really wanted to be in. We might be looking at that, might be trying to deal with the idea that he's even more settled into this kind of life than he wanted to be.
Is there a character you feel you couldn't afford to do without?
Rob: Losing Henry in particular. He just feels like such the center of the show for us that it doesn't feel like it would be the same thing without him. He's the grounded character. He is our, meaning the viewer's, eyes into this world. He's the most relatable for the people who are entering the show. The brilliance of Adam Scott is that he is so damn funny in a straight man role. He represents the rest of us in this situation. He allows everyone to be bigger and more overtly funny.
It's funny that a bunch of my readers have said things like "This is the first time I've ever seen Adam Scott play someone likable." Because he's always cast as a douchebag.
Rob: He even played a douchebag in "Veronica Mars. Which is funny. I think there are people, and I do not mean this to be disparaging, there are people like Jay Mohr and Jeremy Piven where they just give you that vibe, "This guy's going to play someone a little venal." And for playing a lot of those characters, he doesn't have that quality. Not only doesn't he have it in real life, but it's very much something he has to put on.
John: I find it kind of funny. One of the reasons I thought he would be great in this role was because this is how I've known him, as kind of a nice, likable guy who has this slightly under the radar sardonic sense of humor. That's why I thought he would be great. He really knows and finds and nails that guy. I was actually kind of amused to find out that (douchebaggery) was his bread and butter. Hopefully, this will change that. He's a very good actor, and he's also very good at the sort of loose comedy side of things as well.
How different is Adam's version of Henry than the way Paul (Rudd) might have played it?
Rob: Adam plays a little dryer than Paul. It's tough to say. There has been an evolution in our heads. For five years, it was Paul's voice in our heads. Paul was sitting in the room working on it with us. Paul would say these lines out loud. It was even largely Paul's voice when the episodes were written. Now, of course, I hear Adam's voice in my head now when I think about it or write it. I think both of them can be subtle actors, but I think Adam is more inherently dry.
What's Paul's involvement been this season?
Rob: Paul had a hand in casting. All of us. We did pull a bunch of favors, as you can tell from watching the shows. Every week we'd pick the scripts and try to figure out, 'Who can we get for this?' And we do think it'll be much easier this year. We think we'll have to call in fewer favors. Even the people who did us favors want to come back if there can be any excuse. There's been talk of Enrico (Colantoni) divorcing his wife and we find him playing in a Top 40 cover band. JK Simmons e-mailed us and said, "You know, my daughter will turn 17 next year." But whwat we thought was funnier was to do the actual movie release party of the Edgar Allen Poe movie, and have Breckin Meyer come back and do more Matthew McConnaughey. Paul weighed in on all the scripts. The intention was for him to write one.
Is he going to be on the show at some point?
Rob: Paul is desperate to do the show, and I think it's a little odd for all of us that he hasn't. It's about a hole in his schedule and finding the right bit of business.
Who are the holdovers from the original guerrilla pilot you shot a few years ago?
John: Ken (Marino), and Jane, and Adam...
Adam played Henry even back then? I thought Paul did.
John: Not at that point. Way back when we had the show as a logline, I think Paul was at a point in his career where he said, "Well, doing an HBO series might be interesting." But by the time we shot it, it was Adam. I actually knew Adam as a friend of Paul's for a while. I didn't know his work as an actor, but I thought he was pretty good. And Ryan (Hansen) was in it. Those four guys crossed over, and then we got Martin (Starr) and Lizzy (Caplan).
How did Casey and Roman change from your original conception once you got those two?
John: Lizzy was a little younger than we had managed. Andrea Savage played the role in the little scrappy pilot we did. She's a little older and closer to Henry's age. We were originally interested in the idea of two people who were at the same point in their careers but had made different decisions about what to do. Lizzie being younger skewed that a little bit, we had her rejecting the normal life to stay and scrap. But she and Adam had a great chemistry, and you could see them clicking the way they did.
Martin, I think. It was funny: when we were casting for that role, we had seen some people, and we were looking around, we told our casting director, "We'd like a Martin Starr type," and they said, "How about Martin Starr?" And a week later, he had joined the cast. Obviously, the great thing about him is that he totally nails that role, it just gave us license to give him further rein. He does such a good job of both capturing the kind of bitter unfairness of that guy's worldview while also playing the kind of comic oblivion that allows him to say those things.
None of you who write for the show have any traditional comedy writing experience, right?
Rob: No, but we're all fans of comedy.
One of the things I really liked about the show was that it has this kind of classical farcical structure where everything just builds and builds, and then it all blows up in someone's face -- usually Ron's. And I might have expected that from more seasoned comedy writers.
Rob: I don't know that we ever used the term farce, or talked about the structure of farce, but we ended up building towards some big humiliation for Ron in the final act. And that became sort of a structure. It was interesting. There are a couple of things about the Ricky Gervais show "Extras." We had this show written before "Extras" came on. And I really adore that show, the Ian McKellen episode was my favorite episode of television the year it came out. They were doing something similar, building to some huge Andy Millman humiliation in that act. And year two when they gave him a catchphrase, we were all slapping ourselves in the head going, 'Oh, no!' Because it was, to a degree, our structure, and less so than "The Office." That was more our direct line. We may not be the writers who can or want to do set-up, punch, but that kind of comedy, we thought that's what speaks to us. We think we can do that. Let's take a stab at that.
How was it to be writing straight comedy?
Rob: I had the best time. It feels like the way I normally write, with the boundary on the comedy side expanded a bit further. I'm thinking in particular with how pleased I was with the pancake lady story (in the investor's dinner episode). That's something I couldn't quite do in "Veronica Mars," but the boundaries in "Party Down" allowed for an anecdotal story that doesn't move plot in any direction. Something that's so hard to do in normal network television. You always feel like you're having to drive a story point, this scene will link Part A to Part B, I don't get the opportunity to just tell a two-minute anecdote using pancakes and sex metaphors. It was liberating in that sense. And having written both comedy and drama, comedy's harder, because the fear of failure's so much stronger. When you write a scene and you see it cut together, and it doesn't make you laugh, it hurts in a way that failed drama doesn't. Failed drama, it's all, "that's not that compelling," but failed comedy just lays there. The investor dinner episode, there are a couple of moments, when they're having the conversation about Baretta's gun, and we cut inside the house, and there's about two minutes as they just go into that mansion that just feel flat and painful, and I go, 'Oh, just please...' Things I thought were funny on the page weren't funny. It hurts as I watch the episode. But honestly, the joy of seeing Jane Lynch take the "Old McDonald" scene -- when I wrote that, I thought, 'Oh god, I hope this works. Because that will be so ugly if it doesn't work.' But you're putting it in Jane Lynch's hand. I'm so oddly proud of myself when I watch that scene, because I'm watching comedy for comedy's sake, as opposed to "Veronica Mars," where I feel like I'm writing "Heathers."
What are some things you learned from the first season, in terms of things you felt worked and things that didn't?
John: I just don't want us to repeat ourselves. I think we did a pretty good job of arcing out the season, we kept things moving and not too bogged down in a kind of repetitive, all the sort of things you could see being said over and over again. To me, the thing is just to find a new direction to take these characters that doesn't take away what makes the show funny and poignant or whatever. That's why we're looking at new ways to put Henry and Ron and these guys into, not just episodic situations, but overall life situations that give us new material to work with. I think we want to be able to settle in on the combination of the pathos, comedy, farce that seems to really work for the show. One thing that we really liked was the degree to which every episode is a different party and yopu're plunging into a different world. It sounded like a good idea on paper and was easily pitchable, but we weren't sure we could give life to those things. And we did. We got some great guest casts, and it was a way to allow every episode to stand out, and keep pushing that as well.
Rob: There were moments of pretty big, broad comedy, funny for funny's sake, and then there's that dark, painful, this hurts comedy. One of the things we want to do is a better job of blending those things, making sure that there's a combination of those elements. Like Ron's 20th high school reunion -- that's a pretty dark episode. Which is fine, and I love a lot of that material. But I wish we had had some Kyle Bradway daffiness in it. I wish we had had more funny and light stuff to go hand in hand in that episode, so we didn't feel like such an onslaught of our misanthropic tendencies. I like both things, but I just want to make sure that we do a better job, episode by episode, that there are elements of each that they don't tip over. I think the antithesis of that episode is the mobster release party, which is just kind of a fun romp throughout. I think that episode probably pushes us as close to the comedy line. Every show has a boundary of "What universe are you operating in?" I think that takes us as far into the pure comedy range as you'll ever see us. I adore Stephen Weber's performance, but I don't think we can push that any further.
That episode had the vomit joke at the end, and even though I'm tired of so many on-screen vomit jokes in movies these days, I thought that was hilarious.
Rob: A big, huge debate in our universe here, and I'm not sure Fred Savage is happy about it to this day. Fred directed both the porn party episode and Ron's 20th reunion, and Fred was very disappointed that we ended up showing more of the fake penis in porn party. In his cut, you just saw a whisker of it. You just saw Ron's hand stuffing it back, he was worried how fake the prosthetic looked, thought it was funnier the less you showed. I respect that, he could be right. But the rest of us liked the one-second clip where you knew Casey saw the whole thing. But then what I thought was funny, "Okay, Fred, you think that the penis is overdoing it, but you gave us a bathtub of puke." I thought they both were funny, maybe that's my taste. You'll see these people who've worked in the business, very smart people discussing fake vomit and penises.
With the Roman/Kyle rivalry, I think a lot of series would be inclined to make Roman the likable one and Kyle the jerk, and it turned out the other way, for the most part.
Rob: It's the attempt that we consciously make, wanting to tip some storytelling devices on their heads. It's the reason we had Henry and Casey sleep together in episode three. We know that there are going to be enough "Office" comparisons, beyond the obvious that every show on television has delayed gratification with a couple at its center. Kyle is harmless and self-absorbed, and the tragedy of the rest of the crew is that he's the one likely to make it, but he's not a bad guy. The scene of him inviting Constance out to Okey Dog (in "Investor's Dinner"), I thought was a defining moment for him. It's a bit of soul in there. And Roman, he's not a very huggable character.
John: Some of that, I think, has to do with the nature of Ryan, for instance. One of the reasons we have always cast him in stuff is because he really is such a likable presence. That helps his character, it steers him a bit away from being the total cliche of vapid empty-headed actors, that he also has this sweetness to him. And there, again, came out of the natural chemistry between the two of them, especially matched up together as they often tend to be. That was deliberate: Roman matched up against Kyle is always going to lose. I think he's aware of it, and he finds it unfair. That's one of those things I liked about that relationship. There was this comic fatalism to the fact that, even when Roman was correct.
Roman gives you that great moment in the porn episode where he can't stop himself from ruining his shot with the actress who's into dragons.
Rob: Martin is so good in that scene. I've watched that scene just so many times. You can just watch the thought process. You know he knows he should shut his mouth, this girl told him her real name, she's into sci-fi, and he just can't help himself. It's one of my favorite moments.
When did the show start clicking for you?
John: I would probably say either the senior singles or sweet sixteen episodes. I think we just did good scripts where all the things kind of clicked. Tone-wise, they kept us very much in the realm we ended up feeling was the sweet spot for the show. It was the right balance of, there was some plotting, but it's not overly farcical or manic. We liked those episodes
Well, speaking of the level of plotting, it felt like there was just the right amount of continuing storylines, so if you were new to the show, you wouldn't be confused, but if you watched every one, there were small rewards about how, say, Henry and Casey's relationship was evolving.
John: I think that's another thing we pointedly tried to avoid was to make it overly serialized. The impulse is always there, you can sit down, rub your hands together and ask what the big picture is. We did our best to keep it very simple, and down to easily trackable little elements and focus on episodes. Some of that anxiety came from the "Veronica Mars" days, when there was always a tension between how convoluted you want your big picture plot to be, versus episode of the week stuff. But it also frees you up, comedy-wise, if you don't have to be servicing this big plot all the time. I liked being able to keep the carry-over stuff at such a level that you can either address it at the beginning of the episode, and everything else is the fun of what happens. It's enough that you can make a meal of it on its own, but it's never the thing where you're required to deal with. Having never sat down to do straight-up comedy, the biggest panics I ever had was, "There needs to be funny things happening as often as possible," and the more plot you have, the harder it becomes.
How has the experience been with Starz?
Rob: Unbelievably great. It's why I'm pitching them this Austin rock band drama I'm working on. I want to work with those guys. I want to be happy going to work. I want to do a show I'm proud of. Starz gives us notes, they have thoughts on the show, they have thoughts on the script, and we do a number of their notes, but the ones we disagree on that we don't want to do, we never hear from them again. There have maybe been 2 or 3 notes this year where we said we want to do it our way, and they said, "Really, we want you to reconsider this." The reason we have is they've been so genial and supportive. It's just nice doing a show for a network that clearly loves the show and are happy you're doing it with them. This year has taught me that I would be much happier, even if the number of viewers are in the hundreds of thousands, rather than millions, if I can be doing something I'm proud of with a supportive group of people. There are some quirks of working with a network that's new to original programming -- that everything you do is like setting precedent. It's not the factory. In a way that will slow you down, but God, I'll take this experience.
What ideas do you have for parties for next season?
Rob: There was this movie premiere that just happened where the caterers and the event planner got the dates mixed up, and they didn't have supplies. The catering team was literally running to whole foods and buying out there anything that could fit on a cracker, so this high class movie premiere was a disaster. Te really, other than the Edgar Allan Poe movie, don't have anything specific planned yet. I remember a pet wedding being discussed this year, and yet I'm so fearful that this is one that's funnier in the two-word pitch. I'm just not sure that Chriostopher Guest hasn't already nailed crazy dog owners.
I imagine you get a lot of pitches from people you meet.
Rob: It is the funniest thing, though. It's a great cocktail party thing. You can be talking with almost anyone, and they will have an idea for a "Party Down" episode. When we talk to people about the show, everyone gives us, "Oh, I was at this party where..." It's one of those things we're not worried about.
Were the guest roles written with specific people in mind, or did you write the role and then see which favor you could cash in to fill it?
John: I think it was mostly the latter. The only one we knew beforehand were Rico Colantoni in the pilot. Uda was eventually written for Kristen, but it wasn't from the beginning. When we first conceived that party idea and that character, I think it was originally supposed to be a guy. Kristen is good friends with Ryan Hansen, and she came and visited the set and said, "Can I do one?" And we said, "Are you serious?" And we switched it around.
We don't actually find out what Uda did to Ron to make him so afraid of her.
John: I think the idea was just that she was awful to him, in a way that you see he can't really deal with. Certainly, that's something we can explore in a season two. I'm not sure we've got the whole thing quite nailed down yet. If there were ever a prequel of the show, I'm sure we could be kind of amused with the idea of a younger Uda and a younger Ron, working side by side.
It sounds like your guest stars generally had a good time.
John: It was certainly the most fun set I've ever worked on. The actors were all very smart, funny guys who got along well. We never had the money to go over schedule, so it was not mind-crushingly hard work. Having that kind of semi-improvised looseness to it allowed people to step in and not feel like they were just coming in to punch the clock. And we love the idea that the people that did come in and do it just felt free to come in and do what they felt like. They not only delivered these great crazy performances, but also had a good time doing that. Steven Weber was so much fun. He said, "I usually play jerks in suits." I think that gives us a good rep on the street when it comes time to find some more. Certainly, we've gone pretty deep into the "Veronica Mars" rolodex. But I was surprised by how many people outside that world we got as well.
There's always Weevil for next season.
John: This is true. This has been discussed.