Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas returns to TV with two new shows in two weeks, both of which should at least partially please the rabid (if small) fanbase for his cult teen-detective show. Party Down (Starz, Fridays, 10:30 p.m.), which premiered last week, is a half-hour comedy about LA cater-waiters; Cupid (ABC, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.), which premieres this coming week, is a faithful remake of Thomas’ last cult show, a comedy-drama about a man convinced he’s the mythical god of love. Of the two shows, Party more effectively captures Mars’ cynical tone and biting dialogue, although neither project has the dense plotting and vast web of interrelated characters that made Mars so fascinating.
Mars fans may be mollified, though, by the fact that seemingly half the actors who ever appeared on that show end up on Party in some capacity. The main cast includes three former Mars players as members of the titular catering company, almost all of whom are trying to make it in Hollywood, while working as wait staff to pay the bills. As befits a show on a cable network many people have never heard of, Party is modest in scale, with each episode taking place entirely within the confines of a different catered event. Yet Thomas and his co-creators—fellow Mars veterans John Enbom and Dan Etheridge, plus actor Paul Rudd—never let that structure feel confining, and a remarkable amount of character development occurs in these small spaces.
Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan get the most layered parts, as disaffected cynics naturally gravitating toward one another romantically, but the rest of the cast effectively carries the comedic load. The jokes can be a little limp, depending on the guest stars, and the show takes some time to find its rhythm. But it definitely has promise, and could develop into an entertaining look at the underside of the movie industry, while also offering up the kind of complex characters for which Thomas is best known.
It’s harder to tell how things will go for Cupid, a curious project: It’s a remake of a show that Thomas created in 1998, which aired only 14 low-rated episodes on ABC. Although it’s never been released on DVD, the original show has engendered a Mars-like cult following, and apparently ABC sees enough potential in the concept and in Thomas to give it another go. Unlike most TV remakes, the new Cupid doesn’t reinvent the old concept. It’s merely the same show with different actors; the new pilot even recycles a number of lines verbatim from the original.
Bobby Cannavale takes over from Jeremy Piven as Trevor, the man who may or may not be Cupid and who is convinced he must help 100 couples find true love before he’s allowed back into Mount Olympus. Sarah Paulson replaces Paula Marshall as Claire, the skeptical psychiatrist assigned to work with Trevor. As on the original, they bicker in a way that’s clearly meant to lead to romance, and Cannavale (who’s less hyperactive than Piven was) and Paulson carry off the verbal parrying well.
The show’s gooey tone is a little harder to embrace, and its practice of uniting one couple per episode could get tedious (often cult shows are so beloved because they never had a chance to go downhill). Cupid is nearly the opposite of Mars in its sunny, positive outlook on life, but like all of Thomas’ work, it features great attention to detail both in characters and dialogue. Even if neither of Thomas’ new shows ends up finding an audience, it’s still a welcome treat to have his voice back on TV twice a week.