The Rigorous Satire of ‘Search Party’ | #College. | #Students

For four seasons, the TV series Search Party has used its cast of New York millennials as a microcosm of imperfect generational behavior. Its main character, Dori Sief (Alia Shawkat), is a directionless late-twentysomething whose lack of ambition or professional qualifications have kept her life in banal stasis. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Drew Gardner (John Reynolds), is a prototypical Midwestern “nice guy” whose passivity and sensitivity are mercurial and fraught. Her other two college friends—Elliott Goss (John Early), a queer man-about-town, and bubbly actress Portia Davenport (Meredith Hagner)—are equal parts clueless and self-involved. Together they represent the well-educated, financially comfortable, self-satisfied urbanites who are the implicit subjects of myriad anti-millennial opinion pieces and Twitter threads. If avocado toast (the convenient political symbol, not the food item) could be personified, it would resemble Search Party’s ensemble.

Thankfully, cocreators and showrunners Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers are not in the business of taking stale hipster potshots, nor are they interested in painting their characters in a single negative shade. It’s crucial for Dori and her friends to not be outsize caricatures, that their behavior not be inherently representative of any larger trend. While the show’s humor is frequently at their expense, it springs from the crew’s distinctive characterizations. Their flawed perceptions, their shortsighted reactions, and their desperate justifications for their own imprudent behavior are presented honestly and appropriately exploited for entertainment. While their reckless sense of self-possession makes them compelling to watch, especially when they’re being awful, this quality eventually reveals the nonexistence of any true identity in the bunch. Still, they aren’t so straightforwardly contemptible as to render any potential downfall an easy victory. Satire requires good targets, but it also demands a rigorous gaze.

That gaze flourishes within a genre-shifting narrative whose stakes are constantly being redefined. Search Party’s first season follows Dori’s quest to find an old college acquaintance, Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty), after she suddenly goes missing, an obsession that injects some purpose into Dori’s aimless life. She and her friends eventually track Chantal down to a mansion in Montreal, where they discover she wasn’t in danger but was selfishly hiding away from her friends and family. Their myopic pursuit for an egotistical rich girl could have been chalked up to a giant misunderstanding; but before they learn the truth, Dori and Drew accidentally murder private investigator Keith Powell (Ron Livingston), whose brief collaboration with Dori on her search led to an affair and obsession.

The second season follows the ensemble as they haphazardly cover up Powell’s murder and contend with their guilt and deteriorating sanity. It climaxes with Dori pushing her combative, unstable neighbor April (Phoebe Tyers) off the Staten Island ferry after she blackmails the gang with an audio recording of them confessing their crimes. April’s suppurating class resentment and personal animosity might animate her motivations, but her stated reason for extorting them is simple: “I don’t like how you guys carry yourselves,” she says, before thinking for a second and then following it up with “and I don’t think you should kill people.”

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