Binge-Worthy

‘Search Party’ Is the Best Comedy You’re Not Watching

With hundreds of shows on TV, no one can watch everything. So why not watch something pretty great? The case for TBS’ dark-comedy-millennial-satire-murder-mystery.

There are certain descriptions of TV shows that, by this point, give most of us an allergy attack. “Dark comedy.” “Millennial satire.” Grab the Benadryl.

So it’s a particularly impressive feat that the new season of TBS’ dark millennial satire Search Party is actually proving to be a perfectly timed antihistamine in its own right. It’s a well-executed, breezily watchable antidote to the countless hive-inducing entries in an insufferable genre that is swarming TV sets like an oppressive pollen count.

Our eyes are in permanent cringe mode these days, nearly swollen shut by relentlessly disturbing news and the television shows that reflect it. Like most dark comedies and millennial satires, there’s a fair amount of cringe content on Search Party that triggers a reflex to look away. But it also evolves the genre—combining observational comedy about New York twentysomething narcissists with tenets of action thrillers—to a point that also forces you to open your eyes.

This isn’t to say that Search Party is life-changing. But it is a riotously entertaining distraction from everything going on in the world that makes you want to crawl into a hole and hide. We just strongly suggest you make sure the TV in said hole gets TBS.

The first two episodes of Season 2 of Search Party premiered Sunday night, and, just like the show’s surprisingly excellent first season, this one seems to be getting a woeful lack of attention. (Unless those of you watching it really are in some safety bunker.) Maybe it’s time to remedy that!

Season 1 of the show upended expectations. The broad generalizations and stereotypes about entitled, wayward twentysomethings that we enjoy alternately writing think pieces about and laughing at were there. Jokes about brunch, insufferable and rarely legitimate creative pursuits, and social-media addictions were in abundance.

But beneath it all was this surprising beating heart. These characters you wouldn’t want to spend more than five minutes in a room with suddenly became compassionately humanized, even John Early’s opportunistic, gay, self-obsessed Elliott, who lies about having cancer for attention. There was also something that seemed excitingly experimental about the season-long search for a kidnapped girl, setting the series on an uncharted course from millennial meditation to mystery-murder thriller.

Season 2 picks up exactly where Season 1 left off.

Dory (Alia Shawkat) spent the first season searching for a missing classmate, Chantal Witherbottom (that name might be the show’s greatest millennial joke). The search takes her, her swoon-inducingly blank slate of a hipster ex-boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), and her friends Elliott and Portia (Meredith Hagner) to Montreal.

All the whimsy of their sleuthing, largely begun on a lark and out of boredom, takes a shocking turn when a dustup with a private investigator (Ron Livingston) ends with Drew accidentally murdering him. Not only that, but Chantal is alive and well.

It’s a jarring pivot, and, sure, a satisfying one for those desperate for schadenfreude in response to millennial awfulness. All of those whims and delusions and the self-centeredness and refusal to confront reality? Turns out there are consequences—albeit exaggerated, dramatic ones in this satirical case.

Or are there? That’s the anxiety-inducing question pulsing through Season 2 of Search Party, which is admittedly a marked departure from the fun and lunacy of Season 1, but which also stays the course of its thesis statement: a millennial comedy of manners haunted by an earnest, hyper-serious plot.

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The friends start flailing while trying to figure out how to cover up the murder, hide the body, and temper their I Know What You Did Last Summer paranoia when it looks like someone is on to them. It’s the perfect extension of the commentary introduced in Season 1. This year: the exploration of millennial guilt.

Search Party is a marvel in tonal balance, managing to be both grim and goofy. At times, the series can resemble episodes of Scooby-Doo as directed by Terrence Malick. At others, it can resemble the results of a creative-writing prompt, like tasking someone to imagine what an episode of Broad City might look like if scripted by 30 Rock-era Tina Fey. And at yet others, the murder coverup is played so straight-faced that you could be watching one of those B-movie thrillers that come and go in theaters every weekend.

John Early and Meredith Hagner as Elliott and Portia are marvels in roles that should be written off as second comings of Will & Grace’s Jack and Karen, but are imbued with so much pathos and nuance that you’re no longer merely infatuated with them as second-banana comedic relief, but instead endeared to their worst tendencies.

But for all the comedy about this generation and the binge-worthiness of its murder-mystery narrative thread, there is actual profundity to the series as well.

Introduced as listless and helpless in the show’s pilot episode, Shawkat’s Dory bemoans, “It’s just like everybody can tell me what I can’t do. But nobody can tell me what I can do.” There’s a bookend to that element of Dory’s angst—not to mention our culture’s ignorance of the cruelty that can accompany our dismissal of millennials and their struggles—in Season 2. “I don’t have a partner, I don’t have a home,” she cries this season, spiraling. “I literally have less than I had before I started.”  

Listen, it’s possible we’re placing an excessive amount of greatness on a show that is, honestly, mostly just an enjoyable watch. It’s unique, upends expectations, and, refreshingly, is resonant and topical as a character study—and not because of the way it holds an uncomfortable mirror up to the litany of horrible things our society is devolving into.

There’s something casual in the way it is both riveting and fun. It’s a small show that deserves a bigger platform. So be a millennial about it: Get on social media and talk about it obnoxiously. For once, your friends will thank you for it.