43° Good Afternoon
43° Good Afternoon

‘Search Party’ review: Oddball short series ultimately succeeds

A dark comedy about four self-centered twentysomethings who gather together in the wake of their college acquaintance's vanishing. (Credit: TBS)

THE SERIES “Search Party”

WHEN | WHERE Monday-Friday at 11 p.m. on TBS


WHAT IT’S ABOUT Dory (Alia Shawkat of “Arrested Development”) is a recent college grad, living in Brooklyn with boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) and wondering why her life is a failure. By contrast, her effortlessly self-assured ex-boyfriend, Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall) is a constant reminder of her failings. At least she has some close friends around for support — sweet, dorky Drew and self-absorbed Elliott (John Early), the gay, fame-hungry roommate of Portia (Meredith Hagner), an actress who stars on a bad cop procedural and seems blithely superficial. (She’s not.) One day, a distant acquaintance of theirs from college, Chantal (Clare McNulty), goes missing. Her family finds her bloodied shirt in the park, posts a reward for finding her, and then holds a vigil. Dory decides she must act.

This 10-part black comedy — back-to-back half-hours will air each night this week — was created by comic and writer Michael Showalter (“Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”) — who has a cameo as Drew’s sadistic boss.

MY SAY “Search Party” shimmers around the edges with paranoia, or maybe just garden-variety madness. There’s a little bit of Kafka-comes-to-Brooklyn here or Hitchcock. The driving idea is that obsession and narcissism are soul mates, and their progeny is self-delusion. The setting is a prettified, gentrified Brooklyn, filled with privileged millennials and — on the fringes — the desperate and possibly deranged. “Search Party” is supposed to be funny, and often is — but mostly in spite of itself.

This short series really calls to mind that famous Kurt Vonnegut line, “A sane person to an insane society must appear insane.” Dory would appear to be “Search Party’s” sane person. She’s inward looking, thoughtful, and introspective. The world around her appears . . . off. Nevertheless, she’s self-aware enough to know that if everyone else is a little bit crazy, then what does that make her? In a moment of personal/professional crisis, she discovers another famous quote (from “Anna Karenina”): “The pleasure lies not in discovering the truth but in searching for it.” This is underscored in a book owned by Chantal. Suddenly, Dory has a revelation. The search is on.

“Search Party” is superficially about finding Chantal, but it’s really about — come on, you know! — finding Dory. What will she find? Who will she find? More to the point, what will you find?

Before you embark on this weeklong voyage you should know what you’re getting into. There’s some “Bored to Death” here, a lot of “High Maintenance,” absent the weed. Fans of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” will recognize some familiar Brooklyn tropes. Fans of “Girls” will suspect that they’re being punk’d. (Some of the language can be blunt and raw, so the usual viewer discretion advised.)

Other than Shawkat, the core cast may not be particularly well-known to a wider TV audience, but there are some who are — Christine Ebersole, Rosie Perez, Judy Gold, Alysia Reiner (“Orange Is the New Black”), Parker Posey and Ron Livingston, to name a few. Each turns in a sharp, memorable performance but it’s the core five that really carry the load over 10 episodes. They do it with assurance and intelligence. “Search Party” ultimately succeeds — again, sometimes in spite of itself — because of them.

But journeys have conclusions, searches too, and this one will sharply divide viewers. That’s almost certainly the idea. “Search Party” isn’t a comedy as much as tragedy — a furtive slam on millennial entitlement and self-absorption. A divisive wrap is unavoidable.

BOTTOM LINE Uneven, intelligent, weird, sometimes funny (more often not) — and almost consistently engaging.


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