TBS’ Search Party

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Apparently all I want to do now is binge watch. After my marathon Gilmore Girls and Black Mirror watching, I was primed to turn my attention to another show. Now that the weather is turning colder and most series have aired their last original programming before the holidays, I’ve got a lot of time to kill. So I was very excited when I started hearing some buzz about TBS’ new comedy series Search Party. Though the series just started airing on the network, they made the entire series available for streaming on their website; network half-hour comedy shows are the easiest to binge, since without commercials they usually clock in at a lean and mean 23 minutes. Since there are only ten episodes in the first season, I was able to blow through the entire series in a day and a half. I felt so productive!

Of course, it doesn’t matter how quickly you can watch a series if it is terrible; a bad comedy may only run 23 minutes, but it will feel a hell of a lot longer while you are watching it. Thankfully, Search Party was as enjoyable as it was binge-able. Watching the series was a delightful experience and I was thankful that all the episodes were available to consume because as soon as an episode finished I was ready to move on to the next one.

The premise of Search Party is pretty self-explanatory; it’s been referred to as “hipster Nancy Drew” in some of the reviews that I’ve seen online, but I prefer to describe it as millennial Scooby-Doo, minus the dog. The show centers around Dory (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat), a twenty-something year old living in Brooklyn who is feeling a little lost. While everyone she knows seems to be making progress in their lives, she’s still working as an assistant for a rich woman (Christine Taylor) and in a relationship with Drew (John Reynolds) which seems to be more about familiarity than romance. When she discovers that Chantal, an acquaintance from college, has gone missing, Dory fixates on trying to solve the disappearance as a way to give her life some purpose. She becomes obsessed with the mystery and drags college friends Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner) along for the ride.

A lot of the comedy in Search Party derives from how self-absorbed the four main characters are; there was one moment early in the pilot that completely sold me on the show: over brunch (of course), Dory updates everyone on Chantal’s disappearance. The news is met with general apathy, as they barely knew who Chantal was, but Elliott is also tweeting under the table, lamenting his distress over the loss of a “sweet girl.” That moment rang so true to me – not only the idea of making someone else’s misery about yourself, but the general idea that equates social media posting with actual action – that I knew that this show had a definite point of view and knew who these characters were. These people aren’t necessarily likeable, but they aren’t monsters either. And as the series progresses, we get to see different shade of their personality and see them slightly evolve. On most shows, Elliott, the gay philanthropist/writer/entrepreneur/whatever else you go, would be a one-note character that was used solely for comic relief; on Search Party, while John Early’s great performance delivers a lot of laughs, Elliott is more well-rounded and has a little depth. Not a lot of depth, but enough that he isn’t just a caricature.

The problem with a lot of shows that focus on solving a mystery is that that they tend to be more interested in the destination rather than the journey; once the central mystery has been solved, it turns out that there wasn’t much else going on in the show. That’s not the case with Search Party, where while the disappearance of Chantal is the entry point, but not the entire focus of the series. The characters are working on tracking down clues about what may have happened to Chantal, but it spends more time examining who they are and their world; when I got to the final episode, I realized that I didn’t really care if we found out the answer to the mystery. The writers had crafted interesting characters and weaved in dark comedy so that the truth about Chantal almost felt incidental. The mystery may be what initially hooks you into the show, but it’s the actual investigation and the people that they meet along the way that makes this show great. That being said, the ultimate resolution of Chantal’s vanishing was satisfying as well; it may not be why I stuck with the show, but it was a pitch perfect ending to the first season.

All the actors are great on the show. John Early is getting a lot of attention for his performance, but the leads are uniformly great. Alia Shawkat is a great protagonist and her role on Arrested Development has helped her develop perfect deadpan comedic timing. Search Party is a really funny show, but it is a dark comedy that needs a certain type of actor to work well. The show lucked out in that the four lead actors all deliver in spades. You may not like Dory, Elliott, Portia, and Drew all the time, but the performance rang true to me.

Search Party has kind of flown under the radar, but I really hope that people check it out. It’s a smart and funny show and I’d like to see more of it. I don’t know if TBS is planning to order more seasons, but I would really enjoy either spending more time with these characters or seeing what else the creators can come up with. The first season finale does provide closure, but also presents the opportunity to continue the story. I hope that they are given the chance to do so. Search Party was an unexpected end of the year treat that is definitely worth watching.

Search Party is currently streaming on TBS.com. Episodes also air on TBS; check your local listings.  

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