Television Series #10:
“Search Party” (2016-) is the hilarious, cutting-edge comedy by Michael Showalter (“Wet Hot American Summer” who also plays a small part on the show), Sarah-Violet Bliss, and Charles Rogers. After recently landing a spot on HBO Max (where it was previously only available with FX), it has managed to significantly grow its fan base for the arrival of the fourth season (three episodes released at a time on Sunday evenings).
The show stars Alia Shawkat, who made her breakthrough debut in another popular comedy series “Arrested Development,” as Dory, an apathetic Brooklyn millennial who is feeling stagnant in her relationship, her job (as an assistant to a stay at home wife – Christine Taylor), and her life in general. One morning on her way to brunch, she stumbles across a “Missing” poster for a girl she recognizes as having lived in her college dormitory, Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty). When she brings it up to her best friends – Elliot (John Early), Portia (Meredith Hagner), and her boyfriend Drew (John Paul Reynolds) – the three exchange a few unsentimental comments – “Oh, yeah, she was…” and move on. Dory, on the other hand, refuses to let it go. Offended by her pals accusations that she only cares because she has “nothing else going on,” she presses on, determined to solve the mystery and prove everyone wrong.
Relentlessly pursuing leads, Dory begins to involve herself and her friends into exceedingly dangerous and/or strange situations. The convoluted web of potential characters involved in Chantal’s disappearance brings us performances from Ron Livingston, Parker Posey, and Rosie Perez. There are also excellent mentionable cast members like Brandon Michael Hall who plays Dory’s ex-boyfriend with journalistic sixth sense for bullshit and Jefferey Self as Elliot’s on and off boyfriend. In a few sequences, we even get a cameo from one of the writers who gained popularity using his Instagram account to do comedy bits in the form of impressions – Jordan Firstman. Later seasons introduce characters played by Jay Duplass, J. Smith-Cameron, Judy Reyes, Kate Berlant, Michaela Watkins and more.
The show takes risks and takes a cunning, absurdly accurate look at the Gen Y generation. The characters are self-absorbed, noxious and farcical, but that is what brings unrelenting humor and levity to even the most tragic of circumstances. Each season brings a new tone and direction, but keeps the same pitch black comedy. As Michael Showalter described the show upon its conception, season one is the “millennial Nancy Drew,” and the show incorporates callouts to the original book series in the promotional art designed by Sam Hadley. It is an existential quest for the lead character to find purpose weighted by an unraveling mystery. Season two is reminiscent of “Crime and Punishment” with its characters suffering from megalomania and delusions, but is ultimately Hitchcockian – this time referencing him in the promotional work – and feels closer to a psychological thriller. The third season introduces elements of classic courtroom drama, and much of what was referenced comes from John Grisham, but satirizes public obsession with true crime, fame and celebrity.
“Search Party” masterfully succeeds at doing what so many other shows have merely attempted. It keeps its biting wit throughout its running time and sheds thoughtful commentary on the MTV Generation without making them too grating. It is dynamic, well-constructed and rewatchable. As the fourth season continues to play out, we will undoubtedly see our characters facing more difficult and calamitous situations, and maybe their lowest yet. It will be interesting to see how the writers continue to elevate the darker subject matter with humor, while not forgoing their unique artistic edge.