TV

John Early On How The ‘Bonkers’ ‘Search Party’ Final Season Covers Cults, Elon Musk, And Millennial Narcissism

Search Party is the kind of show that samples different genres like it’s ordering toppings at the counter of a fro-yo shop … if fro-yo was still cool. The dark comedy series, which launched on TBS before moving to HBO Max, has done it all: murder, mystery, murder mysteries, millennial brunches, psychotic twinks, courtroom drama, and Susan Sarandon in a slow-speed round-about car chase. But in its swan-song season, showrunners Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers have defied the improbable, surprising us again with cults, Jeff Goldblum, horror-comedy, shocking hookups, and a story about found family – the dysfunctional, criminally selfish kind.

John Early has been part of it all, playing a fame-whoring, monochrome-outfit-rocking hipster ready to switch political allegiances, fib cancer diagnoses, and lie under oath for a spot in the limelight. In the show’s final season, Early’s Elliott is ready to settle down, with a custom-ordered baby that may or may not turn out to be some kind of genetically manufactured Anti-Christ.

Uproxx chatted with Early about the show’s final season, how Search Party captures the essence of our culture, that Jeff Goldblum cameo, and his ongoing beef with email search engines.

Elliott’s life has been pure chaos for four seasons. Does that trend continue in season five?

Well, season four ends essentially with Dory dying. So, I think they were all ready to move on from the kind of roller coaster ride that Dory has taken them on through the first four seasons. They’re all, in their own way, settling down. In some ways, starting a family is maybe the first glimmer of selflessness in Elliott. But of course, as he says in a scene with the great John Waters in regard to these genetically engineered children, ‘They’re real conversation pieces.’ So we kind of immediately know that this is not out of love or desire to raise a family.

That’s not his character.

It would be so disappointing, as a viewer, to see Elliott suddenly want to be a good person. That’s not why we watch the show.

And do people really change?

I think it’s really hard to change. That’s why I think hard comedies don’t get enough credit. I think they’re actually more honest about the nature of people’s inability to change.

Right. Ted Lasso is sunny optimism on steroids whereas a comedy like Search Party can have teeth and still be enjoyable and funny and ridiculous.

Totally. I mean, look at the world right now, it’s falling apart. Everyone can kind of feel the precariousness of this moment. I understand, obviously, why some people would need the kind of positivity, the positive outlook of a show like Ted Lasso. But then I think a lot of people also need this kind of catharsis of leaning into how sour and dark and scary this moment is.

It’s the show for people who turn on cult documentaries for comfort.

[laughs] I’m much more in that camp.

Speaking of cults, Dory might be leading one this season. What would get Elliott and the rest of the group to join?

I think they’ve all kind of gone to such extremes over the past four seasons because of Dory, that at this point — their threshold for just getting on board, it’s very low. I think the tenderness that this show earns, after dragging you through so much hell, is in the fact that they actually all choose to be together. Even though they may resent it on some level or actively even try to resist it, in the end, they’re bonded by the trauma of the end of season one and what they go through after that.

At the end of the day, they just want to be together. They like hanging out. So, if it takes joining a cult, then sure. That’s why I think a lot of people join cults — literally just to have any sort of social structure, routine, a kind of committed family.

For the prospective cult leaders out there, what would it take to recruit John Early?

I mean, I grew up a child of ministers — very Presbyterian, progressive, easy-breezy ministers, nothing too hard about it. But I think of myself as just kind of anti-cult because of that. I think for me, it would have to be food-based. It couldn’t be one of those cults where you’re kind of just having paste.

It can’t just be radishes and bone broth every day.

It’s going to have to be a kind of heavy cream-based cult.

I heard your dad is a huge fan of the show and he gave some input for this season.

He did! He emailed me, ‘If they’re going to do a season five, here are my ideas.’ He literally did a paragraph for each character. It was so smart and funny. I was like, ‘I did not know you were watching the show on this level.’

Not just a “being a supportive parent” surface-level kind of thing.

Yeah, he’s truly internalizing the show and thinking about the characters in a deep way. I was very touched.

Did any of his script notes make the cut?

I’m going to look it up right now. [Checks phone} Let me see. ‘Robert Early.’ ‘Search Party.’ These are my search terms … [Long pause] Oh, no. Can I use this interview as a platform for something?

Go for it.

Why is it so hard to search email?

Good question.

Okay, wait. ‘Search Party ideas’, maybe?

[Another long pause]

Oh, God. It’s not coming up. Let’s coordinate. I’ll send them to you. I think that’ll be funny, and he’ll get the Google alert.*

The show has had some fantastic guest stars over the years but this season, there’s a scene with Jeff Goldblum that might be the most ridiculous thing we’ve seen so far. What was it like shooting with him?

That was a day where the four of us really felt like we were so lucky this show was continuing. I think every season has a great comic set-piece and this one is really up there for me. It’s so fun when the stakes of it are so high and also so clear. It’s not just emotional stakes. In this case, it’s actual action movie stakes. That’s what I feel so grateful for with the show because it started as millennials at brunch. It could have just stayed that, as so many shows do. But we get to hit all these genre notes and do these crazy things.

We’ve talked about how this show started and how it’s changed over the years. How do you think this season will be remembered?

It really ratchets up in stakes. There were times when we were shooting where we were like, ‘Is this just so bonkers?’ We couldn’t tell, but then we would think about the culture right now. We would think about Elizabeth Holmes, Elon Musk, the pandemic, wellness culture on Instagram, influencers. Search Party is really good at not directly depicting what’s going on in the culture. Which would be boring, because why would you want to see any more of what we’re going through, directly on screen? But Search Party does a really good job of capturing the essence and the volume of this moment, culturally; of what turns people into Elizabeth Holmes-es. It’s not just that our generation happens to be narcissistic, just in a vacuum, or happens to be ruthlessly ambitious. This is a generation of people who grew up within a kind of late capitalism moment and therefore, have those ruthless, ambitious principles, as everything around them is shrinking. We’re living in a culture of austerity, scarcity. Do you expect people to suddenly become selfless and learn how to share, as all of our resources are shrinking? No. People are going to become monsters and I think Search Party does a good job of showing how our current culture, the way our society is structured, turns people into true monsters. Anything other than that would’ve been treacly and sentimental and not authentic.

*John Early searched his inbox tirelessly and without ceasing for what we can only assume were days. He was unable to find his father, Robert Early’s, email at the time of this interview’s publication. He hopes this tragedy will draw attention to the very real need of millennials everywhere for a better email search engine. Do better, Google.

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