Every Millennial Should Be Watching 'Search Party'

Alia Shawcat's comedy pushes Gen Y stereotypes to their absurd, hilarious limits. It'll make you realise you aren't the worst twenty something on the planet.

by Matilda Dixon-Smith
23 November 2017, 8:59am

'Search Party' airs Mondays 10.30PM on SBS VICELAND, and you can catch up on both seasons via SBS On Demand.

"You're doing that victim-y thing again," Dory's (Alia Shawkat) ex-lover (Brandon Michael Hall) tells her at one point in the premiere of Search Party, last year’s undervalued noir sitcom, which screened quietly on SBS VICELAND and has just launched a second season. They're discussing the recent disappearance of a mutual college acquaintance, Chantal Witherbottom, who is the the catalyst for the strange sequence of events on which season one of Search Party pivots.

"Well, I'm just very upset by it all," Dory defends herself, "You know, and it's—it's devastating."

"Yeah, for her," her ex replies, "but not for you."

Search Party, which follows Dory’s misadventures when she is compelled to investigate Chantal's disappearance, is riffing on a few different, shrewdly realised themes. Inquisitive no-hoper Dory, who is searching for meaning since graduating from college gave her little purpose in life, latches onto the story of Chantal's mysterious vanishing act after reading her missing person flyer on the streets of New York.

Though Dory barely knew Chantal (she describes her in an earlier scene as "That Girl, Chantal Witherbottom"), the strange and tragic turn of events gives Dory pause and purpose. It prompts her to wonder, as her own life grows stagnant around her—stuck in a flailing relationship, tethered to a meaningless job as an assistant for a rich Manhattan housewife— if anyone would miss her if she was gone.

On the one hand, Search Party is simply a funny detective thriller: Dory is transformed from an aimless twentysomething into a kind of Millennial Nancy Drew, going undercover, following clues and covertly interviewing suspects in the Case of the Missing College Acquaintance. If Search Party were simply that concept, and that concept alone, it would still hold together as a sharp and funny genre sitcom.

But the series also takes the dark millennial sitcom trope (tried and tested in series like Girls, Please Like Me, Insecure, Underemployed and Fleabag) and folds it back in on itself like genre origami. The result is a kind of inverted interrogation of the aimless millennial stereotype, where the trope is drawn out to its logical (yet absurd) conclusion: a kind of hapless horror-film meditation on young apathy. It’s also probably the best comedy you’re not watching on TV.

Like you, I am highly ambivalent about anything that includes An Opinion On Millennials. The millennial, or Gen Y if you're fancy, is any person born during an undefined period between the early 1980s and the late 1990s (or, in some estimations, up to the early 2000s). I am a millennial; my editor is a millennial. You, reader, are probably a millennial.

The other generations, Gen X, the Baby Boomers and the dwindling War Babies, do not, on the whole, particularly like millennials. So they like to complain about them a lot, and write a lot of articles about how silly and unmotivated and lazy and spoiled we all are.

And maybe some of that is true, but maybe also the world has just changed a lot, and in many ways it's much harder to transition into your adult years now than it was in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Things like the property market, or the job market, are not as stable as they were when our parents were in their 20s and 30s. We did not go to university for free, and so we hopped on the tertiary treadmill and stepped into a shadow of debt.

The political climate has slowly and steadily eroded during our lifetime, alongside the actual ecological climate, which is doomsday-level bad. And we millennials also grew up during the advent of the internet, which ushered in massive, almost apocalyptic changes to all our lives, all of this happening rapidly and during our most formative years. The landline phone was virtually the same throughout much of the 20th century; now, a new iPhone launches every year. So, yeah, I guess being a millennial is actually pretty weird.

In recent years, television has fixed its obsessive eye on the life of the millennial. Dozens of introspective series, usually moody sitcoms that can feel more distressing than funny, have grabbed vice-like onto the Gen Y existence as an odd new state of life on which to ruminate.
In the four exquisite seasons of Please Like Me, we watched Josh Thomas muddle through adult responsibility and adult romance, all well before (he thought) he was ready. At the end, he was handed a brand-new loft apartment in Collingwood but he was still there with his high school best friend Tom, alone together and unprepared for the realities of homeownership. In seven fascinating and altogether accomplished seasons of Girlswhich we should probably start re-evaluating for praise in light of Dunham’s consistently poor behaviour—we begged for Hannah Horvath and her cohort to grow up (perhaps ignoring the clue of the title) and take her life, her job and her future seriously.

Those microaggressions, the frustration of watching people oddly like yourself fail so comprehensively at life, are magnified and turned grotesque in Search Party. In season one, Dory isn’t just aimless and latching onto the drama of Chantal’s disappearance; she’s paranoid and obsessive and reckless in her pursuit of whatever meaning she believes is attached to her classmate’s wellbeing.

And Dory’s hopeless (but somehow endearing) boyfriend isn’t just an impotent nice guy, he’s pathologically unable to stand up for the right thing—so much so that when he and Dory overhear what sounds like a violent domestic dispute in the apartment next door, he bargains with her to avoid intervening, telling her they'll go over when something shatters, then declining even when they hear the tinkle of a broken glass.

Millennial apathy is drawn right out to become the exact hysterical and clownish visage that is every Boomer’s worst nightmare, all while the convincing and increasingly spooky mystery of what happened to Chantal runs under the incisive satire and genuine lols. In fact, it's taken so far that season one ends with a dark and gory absurdist jolt that feels entirely logical but nevertheless has to be seen to be believed.

The entire cast is brilliant, but the divine Shawkat (who you might recognise from Arrested Development or the latest season of Transparent) gives a career-defining performance as Dory. The camera loves her open, freckled face, and it sticks to her like glue. Also excellent is John Early’s superbly extra Elliot, a multi-hyphenate creative type with no discernible talent for any of the realms in which he works. His performance is all fluid and freakish(ly funny) physicality and extreme eyebrow raising.

So, as SBS VICELAND rolls out the much-anticipated second season (for those precious few of us lucky enough to have found the series already), now is the time to catch up. It might just be the best thing you watch this year.

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