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'Search Party' Provides an Intriguing, Binge-Worthy Mystery

TBS's millennial-centric mystery-comedy proves the network is searching for a newer audience.

by Pilot Viruet
Nov 21 2016, 7:28pm

Photo courtesy of TBS/Search Party

Similar to a number of television series that revolve around 20-somethings (especially those who live in New York City), Search Party is about the endless search to try and figure out what you're meant to do in life. Dory (Alia Shawkat) succinctly sums it up in the pilot episode, during a job interview: "Everybody can tell me what I can't do, but nobody can tell me what I can do."

Dory is frustratingly passive, falling behind her friends and working as a personal assistant to a rich woman (Christine Taylor) who's looking for more of a friend than an employee. Dory's looking for something to jumpstart her life—her loyal but stale boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) isn't much help—and she finds it, curiously enough, in a missing persons poster featuring an acquaintance from college. Chantal's disappearance (and the shrugging response it elicits from Dory's friends) causes Dory to turn Chantal's trauma into her own, turning herself into the victim instead of Chantal—a realistic reaction to expect from a sorta-narcissist who becomes more self-involved as she becomes more consumed with finding Chantal and less with the feelings of those around her.

Dory's fascination with Chantal isn't because they were close friends—it's because she can't help but wonder what would happen if she herself went missing. Focusing on this mystery also helps Dory to ignore her own stagnant, immobile life: "This matters to you because you have nothing else," says Dory's ex-boyfriend Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall), bluntly—but not inaccurately.

Despite the show's vaguely existential feel, Search Party is very much a comedy (it was co-created by Michael Showalter, alongside Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers) of the twee, Brooklyn-centric, whimsical kind that mines at-times uncomfortable laughs from New Age cults and nosy neighbors. There are supporting characters like Dory's friends Portia (Meredith Hagner), an actress on a ridiculous and familiar crime procedural, and Elliott (John Early), a self-diagnosed narcissist who basically plays a real-life version of Clue during an otherwise somber vigil. The best comedic sequences—a misguided dinner party, an angrily tossed milkshake—are often and almost inconsequential to the show's central mystery.

Search Party's brand of humor fits neatly into TBS's continued effort to promote strange, unconventional sitcoms: There's Jason Jones and Samantha Bee'sThe Detour, a chaotic family road trip comedy with elements of government conspiracy; Wrecked, a comedic take on Lost that still works despite its dated premise; and People of Earth, a Conan O'Brien–produced sitcom about alien abductees. In the oft-mentioned era of peak television, it's not just television shows that are tasked with distinguishing themselves from the fray—the networks themselves have to figure out how to be noticed, too.

It's likely the reasoning behind many network rebranding efforts of recent years. TV Land previously relied on taking 90s-era sitcom stars and plopping them into new environments, but it's since switched gears with decidedly more crass and youth-skewing shows like Younger and Teachers. Last year, Lifetime branched out with UnREAL, while USA strayed from pun-titled procedurals for prestige-baiting dramas like Satisfaction and Mr. Robot. Even Syfy's bounced back from its embarrassing 2009 name change with a successful adaptation of12 Monkeys and television's first entrant in the "creepypasta" genre, the eerie (and great!) Channel Zero: Candle Cove.

TBS—which once boasted the tagline "Very Funny," despite programming that suggested otherwise—has been known for prioritizing questionable syndicated repeats (Family Guy, 2 Broke Girls, The Cleveland Show) over original scripted programming. By eschewing some of its blander, forgettable shows (Men at Work, Sullivan & Son) and focusing on comedies that aren't as broad in appeal, the network's learning how to become more FX and less CBS—to stand out with high-quality programming instead of churning out programs simply to fill a schedule.

It also helps that TBS is giving Search Party a unique rollout (not dissimilar to Angie Tribeca's "binge-a-thon") on Thanksgiving week, premiering two episodes a night all week—ten in total—while also providing the entire series for streaming and on-demand tonight. It's a Netflix-esque move, and for good reason:Search Party is ultimately more about the journey than the destination—a sentiment underlined during the series's sure-to-be-polarizing final moments, which cleverly and surprisingly play with both television conventions and viewer expectations.

Search Party isn't a patient series; similar to how the mystery sucks in Dory's friends, it also sucks in the audience, and even if you find the characters or the overt quirkiness irritating, you'll still want answers. Search Party's mere existence, too, is proof that TBS is actively searching for a new audience—and if nothing else, it'll make viewers pay a little more attention to everything else TBS is currently offering.

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