There’s a fine line between parody and recreation sometimes, and I’d say that Search Party comes close to blurring it entirely, except that I’m not 100% sure what specifically it’s trying to parody or re-create. With its aimless rooftop parties and unmoored, searching/shallow young protagonists, it’s sometimes like Reality Bites 2.0. In the restaurant scene that introduces us to all the major characters, it’s strongly reminiscent of Sex and the City. The deliberately shallow, superficial, yet rarely laugh-out-loud dialogue seems like it may be spoofing shows like HBO‘s Girls, complete with gratuitous (beeped-out) f-words. And the characters dress like they’re from the ’80s: one in particular, a shallow doofus named Drew, looks like the perfect mash-up of young Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer.
This much is clear: it stars Alia Shawkat as twentysomething Dory, who is, as that moniker might unsubtly suggest, trying to find herself. She’s described early on by another character as the sort of person who’s really good at things nobody likes doing (running crappy errands, basically), but has no idea what her own good qualities really are. We do: she is, as of the first episode, the only fully developed character on the show who doesn’t feel like a caricature, but this may be a deliberately sly joke about the way someone like her would see the world, with herself as the only true deep thinker in it. Looking for a purpose and a goal, she comes across a missing-persons poster for a former classmate named Chantal, and decides she’s going to rally her friends around the cause of figuring out what happened. They, in turn, mostly use the notion as a chance to show off their own compassion by proclaiming how devastating the loss is on social media.
There’s an early hint that might be giving the entire “mystery” away—Chantal is said to have disappeared right after her book of poetry was finally released, and if it turns out that she deliberately disappeared to boost sales of the tome, I won’t be especially shocked. But the mystery isn’t really the point, even though the various episodes of the show do have totally Hardy Boys-like titles such as “The Secret of the Sinister Ceremony” and “The Return of the Forgotten Phantom.” It’s really just a jumping-off point for various vignettes about how totally shallow the youth of today are, with their deluded sense of self-worth and lack of real understanding (note to youth of today: they always say this about youth. Don’t take it personally). Sample gag: a guy shows up to a party just to announce that he’s got to go.
Search Party is executive produced by The State‘s Michael Showalter, who has always been right on that line between funny and not for me. If you’re a rabid fan of The Baxter or the original Wet Hot American Summer, take into account that while I did not hate those movies, I find it hard to imagine loving them, and this is about the same (They Came Together, which he also cowrote and executive produced, is the anomaly for me, in that I like it a lot). Weird deadpan for weirdness’ sake appeals; weird deadpan where I feel like I’m supposed to be getting a reference that isn’t really there, not so much. This show is being dropped all at once for binge-watching (two episodes every night on TBS starting Monday; all at once on TBS.com), so presumably there is a long game, and maybe characters other than Dory will develop along the way. I hope the gratuitous bathroom humor goes: an opening joke about stepping in dog crap and a later scene of semi-public urination add nothing but a feeling of desperation for cheap laughs to the story.
2 burritos out of 5 for the first episode. You can safely add an extra one if you’re especially fond of any of the Showalter stuff mentioned above.