'Party Down': Megan Mullally keeps things jumping

An ensemble TV comedy can be a lot like a fragile Jenga tower. Remove the wrong block, and the whole thing collapses. So when comedy powerhouse Jane Lynch departed the Starz sitcom "Party Down" after season one in favor of a little Fox series called "Glee," it seemed likely her absence would be sorely felt.

Happily, however, as the cult hit returns for its second season on Friday, April 23, "Party Down" is still party central for fans of sophisticated comedy, thanks to its newest cast member, two-time Emmy winner Megan Mullally ("Will & Grace"), who joins the show as ditsy cater waitress Lydia Dunfree.

"She's just moved to Hollywood from the Midwest, and she's pretty clueless," Mullally says. "She's extremely eager and very earnest and naive but determined to make things work for her daughter, Escapade, who is going to be a star."

As the new season opens, erstwhile actor Henry Pollard (Adam Scott, also now a producer) has taken the reins as manager of the catering company, since his former boss, Ron McDonald (Ken Marino), left to fulfill his dream of opening a Soup R' Crackers franchise. Unfortunately, the economic downturn crushed Ron's Crackers, so he returns, bitter and not even close to sober, to toil as a waiter. Further complicating Henry's life is the return of ex-girlfriend Casey Klein (Lizzy Caplan) from a stint doing stand-up on a cruise ship, forcing the pair to re-evaluate exactly how they feel about each other.

Indirectly, it was Scott who put "Party Down" on Mullally's radar screen, since both actors share the same manager. Even then, Mullally says, she was decidedly skeptical at first.

"I'm like, 'There's a comedy on Starz, and it's really good?' " Mullally recalls. "So I put it on my TiVo, and my husband and I just got absolutely hooked on it. We came in about the fourth episode in season one. The cast is absolutely brilliant, and the writing is just so great. And the tone of the show is so unusual. It's a comedy, and that works very well, but there's an undercurrent of sadness to the show that is unique and poignant. So when they offered me a role on it, I was just super-excited."