Search Party. TBS. Monday, November 21, 11 p.m.
Viewers wondering if they should give the bleakly satirical TBS comedy Search Party a try can certainly be forgiven if they get the impression that the network is kicking them under the table and mouthing "don't bother." Modeled on indie films not only in its grimy photography and elliptical plotting but its penurious budgeting—the closest thing to a marketable star is Alia Shawkat, part of the ensemble cast of the decade-old cult favorite Arrested Development—Search Party is not so much being aired as burned off, two episodes at a time, at 11 p.m. every night during Thanksgiving week. Don't let the lid hit you on your head as we lower your coffin into the grave, fellows.
What's strange about this (well, okay, almost everything is strange about this, but especially strange) is that if you give it a chance, Search Party is kind of weirdly endearing, in a misanthropic, foul-mouthed sort of way. If you've ever wondered why all your friends are self-important sociopaths, Search Party may be the show you've been waiting for all your life.
At the center of Search Party is a group of superciliously narcissistic college friends nearing the end of their 20s whose pathological self-absorption leaves them happily blinded to the fact that their supposedly fast-track career paths have veered into the breakdown lane. The single exception is Dory, played by Shawkat, the cunning, irascible teenager with incestuous designs on her cousin in Arrested Development. She has a dawning awareness that inside the group she's a doormat and outside even less: "You're not even equipped to teach tic-tac-toe," snaps a charity manager when she volunteers to mentor teenage girls.
Dory is even feeling the stirrings of disenchantment with her tight little social circle, which includes Drew, her pampered, clueless boyfriend (John Reynolds, Stranger Things); Elliott, a preening designer who runs a charity that supplies designer water-bottles to sub-Saharan Africa (John Early, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising); and Portia, a bit actress and walking blonde joke (Meredith Wagner, Royal Palms).
Disenchantment turns to rebellion when Dory finds herself inexplicably moved at the news that a college acquaintance named Chantal has ominously gone missing. Her friends' reactions range from bored shrugs to open hostility. "She sucked!" shouts one. "She was always brushing her hair in public!" With a surprising, if tentative, stubbornness, Dory pushes the crew into a grudging pursuit of the mystery.
Like the hunt for Chantal, Search Party moves fitfully in its early stages, when it's more a series of bitterly etched sketches than a cohesive narrative. But the preening egomania of its characters becomes easier to laugh at as they acquire a few trappings of humanity. And the show gains momentum as the vanished Chantal turns from a Hitchcockian MacGuffin—a device of no importance except to trigger the plot—into a genuine mystery.
The show's progression also makes it clear that the pugnacious self-absorption of Dory's friends is not trendy TV millennial-bashing but merely one more malevolent element of a hostile universe. In the unhinged world of Search Party, a subway passenger reading Anna Karenina is likely to be accosted by a strap-hanger who leans close to murmur, "I'll save you 400 pages, she dies at the end." A neighbor who timidly offers shelter to an abused wife is rewarded with a shriek: "Get the fuck out, you baby-cocked bitch!" Perhaps the reason the characters in Search Party spend so much time in front of mirrors is that they're wondering if the person they see there is, like everybody else, out to get them.