This week we look at two short-lived television comedies that met with critical success and popular indifference. Thanks to Netflix instant viewing, both shows can now be viewed in their entirety, and who knows, maybe there’s still a chance they can find the popular success that eluded them, after all.
For two seasons and 20 episodes, Party Down ran on the Starz network. The characters worked catering in L.A. and they all shared the dreams and frustrations of trying to “make it” in the biz, be it as an actor, musician, writer, or comedienne. The show is interesting for several reasons. Each episode is actually episodic and doesn’t try to drag out plot points from each week to the next in lame soap opera style that often defines television. The tone is irreverent and biting, but never bitter. Party Down is basically a tragedy as all the characters face down failure week after week, but it’s all presented with unlikely joy. The characters are precisely drawn; they bicker constantly while at work (which is the only time we see them), but they are always there for each other. Unlike film, characters never change in television, which is one reason I often find following TV dramas week after week a waste of time. But with Party Down, the emotional stasis works because the characters’ lives, the very essence of the show, are all about the emotional cost of putting a life on hold to chase one’s dream.
Saxondale is a BBC comedy starring Steve Coogan as an ex music roadie with anger issues. He likes to drive around in a muscle car with a “Let’s Roll!” bumper sticker, but he’s nowhere near as badass as he wants to be. He works as a pest controller and is rarely able to satisfy his sex-starved girlfriend who sells anarchist T-shirts. Like many British comedies, such as the original The Office, the humor is much drier than American comedy. This may require an adjustment, and some people might not immediately get it; you have to pay attention, but the rewards are there. There’s talk of transplanting this series to the U.S., probably with more pronounced mullets and a trailer park location. It might even work.
Cinefile is a random reference guide to help explore the vast catalog of films available on Netflix instant viewing, with special emphasis on the interesting, the unusual, and the ones that got left behind.