Trying to bolster its original-series profile, Starz follows up "Crash" with another sputtering vehicle -- in this case, a comedic look at a group of "cater-waiters" titled "Party Down." Each week, the gang caters a different offbeat L.A.-based event while exhibiting too-familiar quirks as they play out their own little minidramas. Despite a promising cast (Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch) and recognizable guest stars, this companion to Starz's half-hour "Head Case" represents a warmed-over buffet of bite-sized moments, mostly devoid of flavor.
The half-hour series largely views the world through the detached eyes of Henry (Scott), an actor who's now sleepwalking through life, dreading being recognized for his 15 minutes of fame or being asked to recite his short-lived catchphrase (appropriately "Are we having fun yet?")
He's surrounded, however, less by characters than by fringe-of-Hollywood types, from his nerdy, eager-to-please screw-up of a boss Ron (Ken Marino) to wannabe comic Casey (Caplan), who fears she's going to have to sacrifice her career ambitions because of her unsupportive husband. There's an instant romantic tension between Casey and Henry, which is about the only thing that passes for humanity, as opposed to cartoon cutouts, in the entire show.
The rest of the gang is basically a mix of miscreants, most dreaming about doing something else. Unfortunately, the series -- whose exec producers are Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge and showrunner John Enbom, who worked together on "Veronica Mars," as well as Paul Rudd -- is really just a collection of tired "L.A.-based actors moonlighting as waiters" cliches, with a tone that waffles between bittersweet and comedic but seldom achieves either. (For a significantly better version of this premise, rent any number of movies, starting with the 1986 sleeper "Echo Park.")
The assorted venues also yield fewer laughs than they should, from the California College Conservative Union Caucus gathering (the Young Republican jokes are heavyhanded and obvious, including a "Waiting for the Governator" bit) to a senior singles seminar featuring Marilu Henner and Ed Begley Jr. in the third episode. Future venues will include a gay wedding and porn-industry awards, so apparently nobody really bothered to break open the fresh-idea bank.
"Party Down's" DVD came wrapped in a cocktail napkin, but that packaging was cleverer than anything in the show. There's no shortage of comedy with a semi-improvised flair trafficking in detached irony, but by the end of three catered affairs, I felt every bit as bored and blase about life as Henry.