“Suffragettes,” the premiere episode of Party Over Here, opens and closes with the fiction that it’s a long-lived series. After a quick filmed segment, Nicole Byer, Jessica McKenna, and Alison Rich take the stage to welcome the audience to their 25th season, opening by answering (fictional) questions from their television audience. Both the imagined questions and their answers show the writers and performers are acutely conscious both of Party Over Here’s newness and of its three-woman team.
It all comes down to one question—or two questions, depending on how you parse Rich’s “Who are these women on my television? What’s their deal?” These women are Upright Citizens Brigade alumnae Nicole Byer and Jessica McKenna (both familiar to Comedy Bang! Bang! viewers) and former Saturday Night Live writer Alison Rich. Their deal is… they’re funny. What more do you want? A little more, it turns out.
Introducing themselves in the familiar, measured cadence of political candidates, the three emphasize their wholesome backgrounds, from Byer’s early life on a hay farm (“no crops, no animals, just hay”) and Rich’s childhood in “the great American city of Room I Was Locked In Until The Age Of 12.” McKenna says brightly, “I even remember a time when my mother made a pie.” Byer caps the intros with “See? We’re relatable!”
Party Over Here manages both to make fun of relatability and to cling to it. The closest “Suffragettes” gets to a scathing joke is a sketch in which Hortense Coleridge (Rich) cuts short a celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment with complaints about the inconvenience of voting. As her fellow women’s-suffrage activists cheer their hard-won right, Hortense makes halfhearted excuses. “The Struggle Is Real” skewers the lazy, apathetic constituency who skip voting so they can check out the new sandwich place, or, “like, whatever! Voting is stupid!” As political jokes go, it’s toothless. It’s funny, but unchallenging. And it’s deeply relatable.
“Suffragettes” explores assumptions about women right from the opening, where Rich stars in a soft-focus commercial fantasy about yogurt littered with mock-sexual cues. Expanding from this twist on a simple cliché (yogurt is, after all, the official food of women), the sketch moves on to a more pointed stereotype: As Rich and McKenna scamper out, squabbling over who gets to have sex with the pot of yogurt, Byer remains, muttering an exaggeratedly broad “Ooh! Shakin’ my damn head! Those girls are crazy.”
“Yogurt Love” is a silly sketch that never zeroes in on a trenchant point, which might make it an odd choice for a series introduction. But it’s an easy entry to the show: pleasant, with a few solid laughs—like McKenna walking in asking “Has anyone seen my yogurt I left in the fridge? I was going to have sex with it for dinner.” Above all, it’s relatable.
“Suffragettes” never bites, but it shows its teeth once or twice. In a mock news report, host Rod Morrison (Steve Tom) condemns vocal fry as a specifically female speech pattern (it’s not) and describes other emerging speech pathologies “making young women even more annoying to listen to.” Byer, McKenna, and Rich give plenty of range to the other speech patterns (baby talk, sudden Batman, sporadic Irish, and demoning), but the kicker is the host’s conclusion. Admitting the possibility that these criticisms are “just another form of sexism,” he asks somberly, “But what do you think?,” inviting yet more random opinions on every facet of women’s lives.
Party Over Here is executive-produced by Jorma Taccone, Andy Samberg, and Akiva Schaffer (collectively known as The Lonely Island) and Human Giant-alumnus Paul Scheer, and one of the premiere’s in-studio bits shows the three stars extolling The Lonely Island as “the three captains of our comedy ships” and “our three dad-husbands! As the men sit, still and silent in a balcony above them, their performers bid anxiously for their approval.
“Do you think I’m funny?” Byer asks. “I could be funnier! I’ll do anything you want. I’ll shit my pants.” The scatological humor could be inane, but Byer’s performance anchors it. She yells “I’ll do it!” before lapsing into quiet realization: “Oh, God. I’ll do it.” The women bond over their shared humiliation, each performing her, uh, movement in her own particular tenor, buoying up the joke, but the uncomfortable depth—the desperation of Byer’s persona, her willingness to do whatever they want—remains.
That’s by far the most challenging moment in a half-hour of not very challenging comedy. Byer, McKenna, and Rich have effortless, watchable chemistry (not surprising considering how well they know each other), and between the three, they create a rich stable of characters and personas, so Party Over Here has room to grow. But for the moment, it’s a deft trifle: fun, funny, relatable, and very easy to watch. Maybe too relatable, maybe too easy.
- “Cars one through 13 killed me, but cars 14 and 15 brought me back to life.”
- “I’ve achieved incredible personal success through hard work—and Twittar, of course.” Same.
- Rich’s impassioned pleading to location manager “Big Papi” Dan Milner makes a big laugh from the small joke of singing the end credits, and his obvious discomfort helps, but it’s Byer’s mounting annoyance that really sells the idea that this has happened 2,500 episodes in a row. “I am so sick of that, Alison!”
- I rolled my eyes at the introduction of Alison’s mom’s fancy new best friend (McKenna in cartoonish lipstick and a fur coat and hat) and her racy, “vaguely racist” anecdotes, but by the end, I was laughing. Hard.
- “This is a great little play for nerds you’re doing!” And even though the first outing left me wanting more substance, I’ll be watching every week.