All 4, Channel 4’s online service, has been developing a good reputation for a while now for box sets of quality TV from abroad such as Deutschland ’83 and Spin. Search Party, a deeply strange 10 part dark comedy from the U.S. is the latest such import and it’s another winner, combining an engaging serialised mystery with an off-kilter style of humour that admittedly might not be to everyone’s taste but I absolutely loved.
Search Party centres around Dory (Alia Shawkat, who you may recognise from Arrested Development) and her circle of self-obsessed 20-something friends as they get drawn into the search for Chantal, a missing girl they all vaguely knew from college. After something of a slow start the series takes a turn into the increasingly sordid and surreal around the midpoint, as Dory becomes consumed by a descent into a world of PI’s, odd cults and deranged characters.
As the series opens up however, Search Party uses these stereotypes as a jumping off point for far more interesting character developments and ideas of conceptualisations of the self within this generation.
The thing that’s going to stand out about Search Party immediately is the quartet of characters it focusses on. They’re…. well, you know when ‘yer da’ types on the internet talk about millennials? At first glance they’re basically that. Two of the main characters in particular, in the opening episodes at least, appear to be the ultimate embodiment of that stereotypical image of self-absorbed, spoilt overgrown children with unearned wealth allowing them to indulge their every whim. For the first couple of episodes you may even find yourself actively hating some of these characters. As the series opens up however, Search Party uses these stereotypes as a jumping off point for far more interesting character developments and ideas of conceptualisations of the self within this generation.
The search for Chantal, although it compellingly fuels the plot of the whole series and provides us with some great twists and dives into surreality, isn’t really the main focus of the series, which ends up being more of a character piece focussed on Dory than anything else. She begins the series adrift and directionless, working an unfulfilling job and stuck in a stale relationship, and the search for Chantal becomes far more about a search for some sort of meaning or drive for her life than helping this girl she barely even knew 5 years ago.
It all ties into the show’s fascination with narcissism and self interest in this generation, and the way in which we’re driven to constantly reassess our impressions of these characters is what keeps this show so fascinating. All this is anchored by Shawkat, who manages to be extremely funny when she needs to be whilst also imbuing Dory with a sense of depth that brings out the strength of the writing throughout. All the other leads put in fantastic work as well, with John Reynolds excellent as Dory’s sad sack boyfriend and John Early and Meredith Hanger hilarious as a double act obsessed with image in different ways.
To be honest, if there’s one thing I’m kind of disappointed about with Search Party, it’s that it’s been renewed for a second season. I know that might be a weird thing to say about a show I really enjoyed, but as a one off this just works so well and really doesn’t feel like it needs a continuation. It’s perfectly paced across it’s 10 episode run both narratively and thematically, and feels like it says all it needs to say and completes Dory’s journey perfectly by its fantastic finale (look out for some visual symmetry between the opening and closing of the series, cinematography fans). I guess I can kind of see where they could take the plot from where we finish and these characters are fun enough that I’d tune in to watch them again but it just doesn’t feel necessary to me, and I’d rather see Search Party remain as this tight package that stands alone.
Regardless of this however, Search Party as it stands is a gem that’s not afraid to mix and match styles of humour, tone and genre, creating a darkly funny mash up that manages to balance a genuinely interesting mystery, solid character work and even some social commentary. If you’re looking for a post-collections binge, this one comes highly recommended.