Our final Screen Scholars March Madness pits two programs which can only be seen online. Rob Thomas’ Party Down, about a misfit gang of L.A. caterers whose gigs become increasingly bizarre and wonderful, spent two seasons on Starz in the late ’00s, but lives on in our hearts. Aziz Ansari released the first season of Master of None, his treatise about the difficulties of navigating modern NYC life deep into one’s thirties. And there it is, four straight L.A./NYC battles. It’s also a bout between programs whose central characters were actors whose starring role in a popular commercial haunted them.
Party Down is the only modern classic ringer that has made it this far. Canceled in 2010, the taut show told the tale of a ragtag band of mostly artists who passed the time at absurd catering assignments that always turned out to be absurd and went downhill fast. While it was never made to last long in this world, 20 episodes were made over two seasons, and not a dud among them. Featuring Adam Scott in his pre-P&R turn as the level head (in this case a failed actor whose beer commercial catch-phrase follows him everywhere) among a bunch of crazies, Party Down Catering wound up in random farcical events ranging from an orgy that can’t quite find its way to an impromptu 50th birthday party for Steve Guttenberg.
With Master of None, Aziz Ansari cemented his position as astute observer of NYC single life. Through the course of ten deftly penned episodes, Ansari, as aspiring actor Dev Shah (his commercial was for Go-Gurt), battled producers’ bigotries towards non-white actors, directors’ casual sexism (to a point), and expectations of Indian culture, while slowly courting Noel Wells’ band promoting Rachel. It’s a relationship that draws you in to root for it even though it’s clearly (probably) doomed by any number of forces, bad luck, bad timing, and neurotic quirks. The show earned critical love (including a #2 spot for 2015 from us).
So, at which speed do you want your brilliant farce served, Party Down‘s fast and furious, or Master of None‘s slow burn.