TBS premieres SEARCH PARTY this week. It’s a dark dramedy about a bunch of young adults whose former classmate goes missing. Most of the quintet are self-absorbed enough not to care much, but one of them, Dory, takes the news very hard, even though she and the missing girl aren’t close, and Dory can’t stop thinking about it. What is behind this mystery and why does it matter so much to Dory?
TBS usually does very goofy comedies, more slapstick than clever, which isn’t an insult as there is plenty of room in the world for both, and each style has many fans. In SEARCH PARTY, though, the netowkr is departing, going more for a premium cable style sitcom, something that is as much drama as comedy, and that gets into deeper issues than are usually tackled in twenty-two minutes. It’s a serial story, almost with a miniseries feel, that presents a specific point of view, grounded and relatable, and I found myself interested in this one.
Alia Shawkat (Arrest Development) stars as Dory, who to me feels apart from her social circle. Her boyfriend, Drew (John Reynolds, Stranger Things), is such a doofus he can barely take care of himself. Portia (Meredith Hagner, Royal Pains) is a self-absorbed actress, and hipster Elliott (John Early, Your Main Thing) is equally shallow.
Now, it could be that these friendships are left over from Dory’s younger days, and she hasn’t yet found a peer group that really understands her; she certainly seems different enough for this to be the case. I like this distinction, though, because it helps explain Dory’s motivation, someone who feels like she doesn’t quite belong in the world she inhabits, and I get the impression she’s looking for the missing girl in order to figure out herself as much as to actually solve the case.
Dory has some help from ex-boyfriend Julian (Brandon Michael Hall, Cecile on the Phone), the fifth member of the cast. Julian also doesn’t seem as much a part of the others, and that makes him a good one for Dory to reach out to when her friends are disinterested. Smart and capable, he’s the perfect partner for our fledging detective, and together they are likely to figure out what happened.
If that was all there was to SEARCH PARTY, I might still like it. But as one keeps watching, one gets more insight into what, on the surface, seem like the more superficial characters. Portia, in particular, is given screen time to explain why she is the way she is, which is welcome. If the same is done for Drew and Elliott, and if that figures into Dory’s central line, I could see this being a pretty interesting series.
What stops me from a full recommendation is that I feel like other shows have done these things better, though. SEARCH PARTY has the mystery of Stranger Things, the narcissism of Girls, and the journey of a Wes Anderson film. And the problem with drawing those comparisons is that each of the other pieces of content are superior in their execution. Which means this one suffers by the reference.
I like that TBS has taken this chance, and if this series were just a bit better, it would succeed for me. I do hope a failure here (if, indeed it does fail, as others may disagree and this show could become quite popular; I’m terrible at predicting ratings) doesn’t discourage TBS from trying again. Some of the right elements are in place, it just lacks a polish and fresh take to really push it over the top.
SEARCH PARTY premieres Monday, November 21st on TBS.