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Defiant ‘Party Down’ serves up plenty of laughs

It’s like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and some outtakes from a Judd Apatow movie got high together, had awkward sex in a janitor’s closet, then ended up trapped in a loveless marriage raising a weird, friendless baby who can’t stop throwing up on the neighbors.

It’s “Party Down” (10 p.m. Friday, Starz), and it’s definitely not for everybody. Heck, it’s barely for one out of every several hundred bodies. But that only adds to its greatness.

The series, named for the second-rate Los Angeles catering company at its heart, is an angry, defiant little comedy that doesn’t much care whether you like it. The brains behind it — “Veronica Mars” creator Rob Thomas, “Veronica” writers/producers Jon Enbom and Dan Etheridge, and actor Paul Rudd — seem more interested in entertaining their cast and friends than the audience. And I’d be stunned if it ever wandered within 500 yards of a focus group.

As a result, “Party Down” is the funniest thing on TV you never knew existed.

In the hands of television’s most naturally hilarious ensemble outside of “30 Rock,” the show’s six cater-waiters — a motley group of outcasts whose Hollywood experiences play out like the anti-“Entourage” — are going nowhere fast. The Party Down logo should come with a motto: Abandon hope all ye who cater here.

The gig serves as a sort of purgatory, keeping the team’s members in a holding pattern as they wait for something better to come along. But most of their dreams are so far past their expiration dates, they’re starting to gather mold.

Ron — portrayed by Ken Marino, a cult comedy god for nearly two decades now, thanks to his roles in the likes of “Wet Hot American Summer” and MTV’s “The State” — spent last season as the team’s ineffectual leader, maniacally pursuing his own Soup R’ Crackers, “the fastest-growing nonpoultry, noncoffee franchise in all of Southern California.” Having failed at that, Ron returns this season a broken man.

His leadership role has been reluctantly assumed by Henry (Adam Scott), who found fleeting fame in a series of beer commercials with an iconic catchphrase — “Are we having fun yet?” — that ruined his career. Henry isn’t happy with his new responsibilities, but he’s enjoying the perks. “I was able to move out of my studio apartment into a one-bedroom with a view. It’s a view of a Taco Bell, but still, it’s a view.”

Comedian Casey (Lizzy Caplan) is dismayed to learn her agent recommended her for a minivan commercial. “I’m not mom material. I’m acerbic 20-something. You know, I’m funny-but-(expletive)-able waitress.”

At one Party Down event, dim-bulb, pretty-boy actor Kyle (Ryan Hansen) bragged of sleeping with a girl, then getting with her twin sister, before he realized “it was just the same girl put a sweater on.”

And nerdy Roman (Martin Starr) writes unapologetically “hard sci-fi.” When someone mentions his script about intelligent fungus, he has to ask, “Which one?”

Each week, crew members find themselves in a different venue — events range from a preschool fundraiser to the after party for an adult video awards show that introduced viewers to Cramsey, the morose porn star with a monkey heart — where they end up drinking, popping pills and hooking up. Pretty much anything but waiting on people.

“Party Down” is the rare series where everyone’s the comic relief. Most of the scenes feel like the point in other shows where someone improvises something ridiculously obscene and the cast and crew collapse into laughter shortly before the director yells “Cut!”

As if to counter criticism that the series doesn’t have enough heart, this season includes a scene in which Roman is told one of his scripts should be more moving. “You know what would be moving?” he testily responds. “If there was a panda and a kitty on the Titanic and they got cancer and fell in love. That would me moving. Let’s put that in the script.”

At this point, about the only thing “Party Down” isn’t is safe, not just in its tone, but its status as well.

Jane Lynch left the series last season for “Glee.” (She has since been replaced by Megan Mullally.) And over the past few weeks, casting directors have been scooping up the comedy’s stars as though they were the drunkest girls in the bar during last call.

Scott will join NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” next season, and Caplan and Hansen have been cast in potential new fall series.

The comedy might have become a victim of its underground success, putting a third season in jeopardy before the second one even begins.

But for now, “Party Down” will keep catering to your comedy needs. Just so long as they mesh with those of its creators.

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

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