TV Recap: Party Over Here, Series Premiere

Written by Chris Diggins

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Party Over Here Premiere Summary:

A suffragette at a rally is reluctant to exercise her newfound right to vote; Alison’s mom brings her embarrassing friend Olga to the show; the girls are eager to impress their comedy mentors, The Lonely Island.

Nicole Byer - Photo Credit: Emily Shur/FOX
Nicole Byer – Photo Credit: Emily Shur/FOX

Nothing in the world is quite so excruciating as bad comedy. When drama is bad, it can be boring, pretentious, and cloying. But when comedy is bad, it is a uniquely awkward experience. You can’t do anything but sit there in uncomfortable silence as someone tries and fails to make you laugh, producing a mixture of pity, boredom, and disgust that can’t be replicated by anything else. In this way, comedies are at something of a disadvantage compared to dramas. Watching a a comedy that isn’t funny is usually a much worse experience than watching a drama that isn’t compelling. And if it’s a sketch comedy, where being funny is the only goal, then it’s even worse. That’s why, even though it’s only a half hour long, Party Over Here is a serious ordeal to sit through.

Party Over Here is a new sketch comedy show, co-created by The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone) and Paul Scheer and starring Nicole Byer, Jessica McKenna, and Alison Rich. The idea seems like a slam dunk. The Lonely Island’s music videos and sketches were the highlights of Saturday Night Live when they were on that show, so having them produce a new sketch show should be a guaranteed success, even if they’re not starring themselves. But something has gone horribly, terribly wrong in the transition. The show doesn’t just lack their trademark creativity and carefully cultivated weirdness, it lacks nearly any humor at all.

Jessica McKenna - Photo Credit: Emily Shur/FOX
Jessica McKenna – Photo Credit: Emily Shur/FOX

From almost the first moment, you can tell that something is off. There’s a cold open featuring a serviceable, if cliché, parody of weirdly indulgent yogurt commercials that immediately takes a hard right turn into a bizarre riff on having sex with food, then abruptly ends. It’s jarring, off-putting, and not particularly funny or clever, immediately setting the tone for the rest of the night. That leads right into the three stars (Byer, McKenna, and Rich) walking onto a stage in front of what appears to be a live audience, a fairly conventional if uninspired choice made far worse by the inexplicable decision to use canned laughter anyway (possibly because they couldn’t get anyone to laugh at the terrible jokes). They turn their intros into a riff on political campaign commercials that pretty much immediately devolves into saying weird non-sequiturs as a substitute for humor rather than actually using or saying anything about the specific oddities of that format. It’s a series of baffling choices that renders null any humor that could be found in these ideas.

Every sketch that plays out across the entire runtime comes across as some half-formed notion, like they came up with a funny idea then just filmed it right away without bothering to develop it at all first. There is no escalation of premises, no riffing off of different aspects of an idea. Every sketch has only one joke to tell, and either tells it over and over and over again or is mercifully cut short. There is humor to be found in these ideas, mind you; I can think of a bunch of different ways to use the idea of an embarrassing friend of your mom’s, for example. But when the best way you can come up with to utilize that is to have someone sit in a chair and shout about all the different things she does and why they’re embarrassing, there is something very, very wrong in your execution.

Allison Rich - Photo Credit: Emily Shur/FOX
Allison Rich – Photo Credit: Emily Shur/FOX

The only bright spot in the show is actually a cameo that The Lonely Island makes in a sketch about the girls hoping to impress their mentors. When they mention that The Lonely Island is watching, the camera cuts to them sitting up in the balcony, all wearing suits and staring silently at the stage with blank expressions. It’s a genuinely funny moment, but the rest of the sketch serves only to highlight the problems with the show. The girls immediately jump to pooping their own pants to impress them for no clear (or more importantly, funny) reason, and then half-heartedly pretend to do so in what is easily the worst bit of the night. It feels more like a bad act at an amateur improv performance than professionals on a network TV show, and the juxtaposition with The Lonely Island’s impeccable comedic timing (they give a little nod after the display that is also well-timed enough to elicit a laugh) just makes it even more galling.

In a time where we’ve had amazing sketch shows like Key and Peele, Inside Amy Schumer, and Portlandia, there’s no excuse for making one this poorly written and dreadfully unfunny. Of course, comedy is often highly subjective, so it’s possible that some will find more humor in Party Over Here than I have, but I have trouble seeing how. It’s so lacking in the fundamentals of building a good sketch, so full of poorly constructed bits that waste perfectly good ideas, that I can’t even imagine someone being entertained by it. Maybe with the help of their illustrious producers they can turn things around and start making the weird-but-smart comedy The Lonely Island is known for, but I don’t feel like sticking around to find out.

Rating: 3 out of 10

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