When it comes to TV, millennials are comedy gold. Some shows get them hilariously right (Broad City, Insecure), some get them annoyingly wrong (HBO’s Girls) and some seem to say f*ck it, we don’t care (pretty much any CBS series featuring a retired/aging white man acclimating to some loss of privilege). But TBS’ new show Search Party is in a league of its own.
The series, created by Sarah Violet-Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, is being billed as a dark comedy about a group of 20-somethings searching for an old college friend who mysteriously vanishes The show at time plays like a crime thriller, a mystery caper filled with raunchy humor, anda heavy drama and deep insight into a demographic that seems to be both the bane of our society’s existence and its greatest hope.
Alia Shawkat’s character Dory touches on this in the show’s first episode when she interviews for a job she really doesn’t want. She’s labeled aimless, empty and, worst of all, boring, by her prospective boss before she breaks down into tears and says what plenty of young people in this country are probably thinking right now: “Everybody can tell me what I can’t do, but nobody can tell me what I can do.” Finding Chantal (Clare McNulty) – the young woman Dory roomed with for a quick second in college years ago – becomes the needle in her compass but the real search here isn’t for a missing coed but for her own purpose. After toiling away at school, Dory’s landed a job as a personal assistant to a lonely, rich married woman (Christine Taylor, just one of many surprising and satisfying guest stars). She’s three years deep in a relationship with boyfriend Drew (Stranger Things’ John Reynolds) – a strait-laced guy with a Midwestern vibe who sports high socks with jeans and resembles a walking wet blanket.
Rounding out her group of friends is Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner). Elliott is an entrepreneur, a designer, a philanthropist, a … you get the drill. What he really enjoys most is breaking up, then hooking up with his on-again-off-again boyfriend, reminding people he survived cancer as a child and indulging in his overwhelming narcissism. Portia is equally as conceited as Elliot – she’s an actress after all – but unlike her gay best friend who basks in the spotlight in order to stroke his own self-confidence, she craves attention for approval’s sake. The foursome spend the necessary amount of screen time brunching, tweeting, sexting and whining about the injustice of the world at rooftop parties for you to believe that they are, indeed, those magical, misunderstood unicorns known to us mere mortals as “Brooklyn hipsters,” but where the story really gets interesting is when the group commits to Dory’s insane scheme to find Chantal. Because while Dory’s obsession with her missing “friend” is just a distraction from her own purposeless life, for the rest of the group, searching for Chantal isn’t a way to find something, but to escape it: a bad relationship, a lackluster career, a fizzling relationship. No one on this show is truly happy which is why it’s so easy for them to find happiness in other people’s misery.
That sounds a bit morose, but in truth, this show is hilarious. Yes, it’s dark – you’ll probably feel a bit gross laughing at the vigil Chantal’s family holds for her complete with an a capella rendition of a Kelly Clarkson song and a mobilizing hashtag – but most of the time, you’ll be laughing because it’s so dead-on. Search Party doesn’t try to be a show about millennials. It’s not a show trying to understand them, mock them, glorify or vilify them. All of those things happen over the course of nine episodes, but there’s an honesty to the series and the way it mixes what some think about an entire generation and what that generation thinks before finding common ground in the middle.
Shawkat can do no wrong and she’s joined by a capable supporting cast. Early does a lot with his character’s simple unconscious tics: an obvious eye roll, a slight nod of the head. Reynolds is solid, giving a steady performance as Dory’s well-meaning boyfriend who begins to grow more of a spine as she descends into the depths of her fixation. Hagner though is the real stand-out. For most of the first few episodes she’s painted as the formulaic blonde bimbo desperate for attention and validation. She is that, but Hagner manages to infuse her with a surprising amount of depth — a scene between her and Early towards the end of the season may be the series’ highlight. The show’s ending isn’t, like the rest of it, interested in tying things up in a neat bow. Dory’s hunt for her friend (and herself) ends ambiguously – cue another metaphor – but if Search Party teaches us anything, it’s that what we want and what we think we want are often two different things. Oh, and that millennials are people too. (Self-obsessed, disconnected, often sh*t on, well-meaning, social media-crazed people, but people none the less.) Give them a break.
Search Party premieres Monday, November 21 on TBS. Its ten episodes will air two a night throughout the week and the first episode is available online now.