Ken Marino Was the MVP of ‘Party Down’ Season Three
Note: This story contains spoilers for the whole third season of Party Down.
The extremely long-awaited third season of Party Down has come, delighted us for six weeks and gone. Now, we’ve arrived at our first Friday without it, and we are bereft. While we wait to see if that finale cliffhanger leads to a fourth season, let’s celebrate the third’s most important star: Ken Marino.
It’s been over a year since the Party Down revival was announced; we’ve known since then that Lizzy Caplan would be the only original cast member not to return as a series regular. Obviously, the show’s devoted fans would have preferred to see the entire cast reunited, but a few things quickly became obvious in the Season Three premiere. The show’s producers convincingly wrote Caplan’s character, stand-up-turned-actor Casey Klein, out of the narrative by giving her a big job in New York. New cast members Tyrel Jackson Williams (cater-waiter/aspiring TikTok star Sackson) and Jennifer Garner (movie studio executive Evie) were intriguing additions whose stories brought the narrative into our current day — as would Zoe Chao’s Lucy, starting in episode two. And as good as the ensemble is, any single part probably could, like Caplan, safely lift out in the event of a scheduling conflict without destroying the whole — except for Ken Marino.
While Adam Scott’s Henry is the series protagonist — the one whose long-simmering flirtation with Casey his former co-workers openly ship in the premiere; the one archly commenting on the absurdity around him without generally involving himself in it — Marino’s Ron is Party Down’s tragic hero. Originally the titular catering company’s event manager, when we meet him again in Season Three, he’s about to finalize his purchase of the company, because unlike the frustrated and/or has-been artists who grudgingly work for him, Ron’s not marking time until he breaks into another field: He’s working to succeed in this one. (As Inkoo Kang writes in her review at The New Yorker, “(Only) Ron is naïve enough to believe in capitalism.”)
We know better than to count on Ron’s dream coming true, not only because the system is rigged against him, but because Ron is Ron. Actually, Ron is Ronald Wayne Donald, so he’s had a deficit to make up from birth. In the premiere alone, Ron finds out the company sale may get held up due to an oversight by his incompetent lawyer; he has to dig himself out with a loan from former employee Constance (Jane Lynch), now a widow so rich she thinks the “10 grand” he asks for means $10 million, but whose investment at the smaller amount still comes on the condition that she insert herself at every event; and just when it seems like this might be the one time Ron comes out on top, we find out when the season-opening party is taking place.
The other characters have their troubles through the season: Henry gets divorced between the first and second episodes, requiring that he return to Party Down to pay his alimony; Roman (Martin Starr) sells his best hard sci-fi concept to a streaming service that immediately goes under, taking his IP with it; Lydia (Megan Mullally) learns for the first time that child stardom screws people up later in life, and worries for her own daughter/client, Escapade (Liv Hewson); Sackson gets his biggest TikTok hit with a hard fall on an escalator; chef Lucy’s artistry is appreciated only by a literal Nazi; and Kyle gets canceled for seeming like a Nazi, on the eve of headlining a superhero movie. But no one loses more often, and in more ways, than Ron.
We were not graced with a new Party Down episode today. We may not get another episode, ever. So let’s look back on Marino’s glorious season through Ron Donald’s many disasters, and appreciate that there truly is nothing Marino will not do to bring this character to life, in all his pitiful dimensions.