Entertainment

'Search Party' Season Three Finally Reckons with Millennial Self-Obsession

The cast of the satirical murder-mystery series talked to VICE about how the show's world of entitlement and hypocrisy mirrors our own.
June 25, 2020, 2:43pm
a still from season 3 of search party on hbo max showing alia shawkat and shalita grant surrounded by microphones and recorders outside a courthouse
Photo courtesy HBO Max

When Search Party last left off in December 2017, Dory (played by Alia Shawkat) had just been publicly arrested for the murder of a former fling, shortly after having pushed her blackmailing neighbor off the deck of the Staten Island ferry. Clearly, what started as a band of Brooklyn cool kids looking for their missing friend took several dark turns into the absurd. As accomplices in the first murder, Dory's friends—from Drew (John Reynolds), her fed-up ex-boyfriend; to Elliott (John Early), the narcissist who faked a history of cancer; to Portia (Meredith Hagner), the ditzy actress who'd go along with anything—wondered if they'd be next.

Leaning on the trope of "self-absorbed millennials," but in a way that feels in on the joke and not finger-waggy, the murder mystery satire has played up the idea of the entitled 20-something to its most ridiculous end point: What if privileged, self-obsessed "hipsters" became murderers, and how would they face the consequences of their actions? After a three-year wait and a move from TBS to HBO Max, the gang is back with season three, and their public reckoning in the courtroom takes the same incisive and wryly funny approach that's given the show its cult following.

VICE talked with the cast and show creators Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss about how Search Party's approach has changed since its first season—which was filmed in 2015—and how its sharp commentary might help us better understand ourselves, especially as millennials push further into adulthood. Our conversations have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

VICE: How has _Search Party_**'s commentary on millennials changed since season one?** John Early: I think it does a really good job of showing millennials before the Empire fell. I do think there's a visceral feeling when you're watching it of what it feels like for a certain kind of, you know, demo—like privileged—to have their world fall apart around them: to be, against their will, unable to keep the suffering at bay. In the case of the story, it's this murder that they're trying to hide, but I think the murder works as a metaphor for the larger suffering of the world that a lot of white people have been able to avoid their entire lives.

Meredith Hagner: It feels like a cautionary tale as to what can happen when you only see the world through the lens of your experience and your privilege. We watch these people in hot water over and over and over again—still only seeing things from their perspective, which is why they all keep hitting the same wall in their lives.

Charles Rogers: What we wanted to say in particular with this season is to reflect back the ways in which American culture has become so unreliable. Dory's lies really take center stage in this season, and how she ends up influencing herself and others with her lies.

There's certain aspects of entitlement, privilege, hypocrisy, lying that we started out defining as millennial traits. Now I think they've just become the world of the show, and I think they've become our world as well.

With the way the show has progressed into season three, do any of the characters remain heroes?
ME: There is a gray area in how all of us are—are we good, are we evil?—and all of these characters encapsulate different versions of that. With Portia, watching her try to understand: Am I intrinsically bad, or am I the product of a culture that has perpetuated these ways of being? I have such empathy and love for her, because I see her as being a product of something. But then looking at Dory and Elliott and going: Are these bad people, or are they my friends? I don't know where to put them.

JE: I think that, character-wise, Portia believes in heroes and villains, and that's why what happened over the course of the story is so painful to her—because she has to reckon with the fact that it isn't as black and white as that, and that was how she got through the world. Elliott is the exact opposite: he doesn't believe in heroes and villains, which I think is ultimately maybe a healthier way to be.

Alia Shawkat: Dory and I are very different people, but I still have to understand her choices, no matter how villainous she becomes. It's not about holding on to her being likable—you have to just believe her choices and understand why she's making that choice. That's the way that I connect to her: to her, it's survival, and we all do crazy things when it comes to survival.

John Reynolds: I also think that the fun of our characters is that they aren't heroes in any sense, yet at the same time there are traits that are endearing about them.

Do you think Search Party 's approach is inherently cynical, or is there a positive side there?
AS: When it comes to fame and self-flagellation and shame and the legal system, there's a very sharp tone. That way, I guess, it doesn't seem hopeful, because it's kind of like everyone's fucked—like there's no real person you could trust, and the person you thought you could trust is actually worse off than everybody else. I don't know that it has a hopefulness to it, but I like how everything is up for grabs. There's no rules of who's good and bad.

JR: I feel like it's coming from a place of love, but also self-examination of the darkest parts of our culture.

Sarah-Violet Bliss: It's complicated because, I think, yes, it's a little cynical, but also we have love for the characters. Originally, Dory's pursuit of wanting to find her role in this world and wanting to have a purpose that was good had this idea of "altruism," but at the heart of it, it was narcissistic. This is sort of an exaggerated embodiment of what that turns into, so there's a cynicism to that.

CR: This was unconsciously our intention with Search Party and with our movie Fort Tilden: daring people to find the humanity in characters that are pushing into unsavory extremes—and for them to often reflect aspects of ourselves that we're not comfortable with, but to also take moments to really sit in empathy with the characters and to take their plight seriously, even though they might not be redeemed in the end.

The redemption is neither here nor there because it's ultimately, to us, about the inner lives of these people and asking people to reflect on how much they relate to them.

Do you think millennials are finally due for our cultural reckoning?
CR: I think that we were due a long time ago [laughs]. You know, I think that any criticism of privilege is valid, and that's something we hope to reflect in the show: that just by essence of being a privileged person in a society that favors privilege, you're shady—it's just true. I think it's been due since we were born to check in about that, and I appreciate any moment where you're called to self-examine. I think it's always healthy; I think that shame is the more layered aspect of the conversation than the self-examination.

AS: I mean, I think it's funny, like if I take myself out of the age group I'm in, how funny it is that we want to place blame on some generation for why we're all fucked. Like, we've always been fucked; there's always another group of people to blame it on. I think, with millennials, one of their strengths is that they do seem to make fun of themselves a lot, whether they're aware of it or not.

I think the show has this self-deprecating nature to a degree, but also not in the sense that it's like, "I'm laughing at myself, like sorry, it's who I am." It's more just like, "Let me show you how fucked up we are and how fucked up it could be, you know, if it went this extreme—where we killed someone and we're trying to cover it up. Like how bad would that be?"

The third season of Search Party is available to stream on HBO Max starting June 25.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.