‘Search Party’: A Unique Satirical Comedy

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
Yahoo TV
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Alia Shawkat (Photo: TBS)

In Search Party, Dory (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) notices a “Missing” poster of Chantal, a girl she went to college with, and becomes obsessed with finding her. Dory is at an awkward point in her life. She has a boyfriend, Drew (John Reynolds), whom she’s really not too fond of and a job she hates, as an assistant to a wealthy woman (Christine Taylor). She hangs out in New York City with a group of friends whose self-absorption is breathtaking. For Dory, the notion of finding Chantal gives her an immediate rush, a sudden feeling of purpose in her purposeless life.

All of this comes wrapped in the trappings of a sitcom. Search Party is an immensely clever, well-observed, 10-part series that begins airing Monday night on TBS. It’s an assiduously eccentric production in the new tradition of other TBS experiments such as Angie Tribeca, Wrecked, and People of Earth. The show is being stunt-broadcast: two episodes a night for the next five nights, with all episodes available on On Demand. Search Party is co-created by Sarah Violet-Bliss and Charles Rogers, who together directed the indie film Fort Tilden, and Michael Showalter (The State and Wet Hot American Summer).

The search for Chantal gives the narrative some forward momentum and structure, but within that, the show is most interested in satirizing the empty banalities of a certain strain of big-city millennials, exaggerating their sense of entitlement, their disinterest in or contempt for anyone older than they are. Dory’s friends would be insufferable were they also not so funny — and they’re redeemed in our eyes by having Dory as their friend because she’s nothing like them.

Shawkat is transfixing in this role, all huge staring eyes and a constantly inquisitive expression. Her quest to find Chantal arises initially from a vague feeling of guilt — she didn’t know Chantal well at all, just has a general memory that she’s a “nice person” — but soon gives her life meaning, even excitement. (She’s like a Nancy Drew for 2016 — the art that promotes the show is a deliberate echo of the old Nancy Drew books.) Search Party is studded with excellent cameos by familiar faces like Rosie Perez and Christine Ebersole, and the show seems to effortlessly parody other TV genres. (One of Dory’s most vain pals, a ditsy actress named Portia, played by Meredith Hagner, is seen in her “series recurring” role in a Law & Order-type drama.)

The show works as a comedy, as a satire of the way certain people live now and of the true-crime genre in its search for Chantal. Search Party’s half-hour episodes zip by so quickly, you’ll probably binge on them sometime during the upcoming holiday.

Search Party airs Monday through Friday at 10 p.m. on TBS. All 10 episodes are available on On Demand.