<i>Search Party</i>: A Millennial’s Quest for Meaning

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This was one of the (many) choral chants of dissent about Girls, and many might be tempted to
apply it to Fort Tilden and Search Party too. The notion that work and even a long-term relationship ought to be fulfilling, ought to be
“meaningful,” rightfully sounds like privileged cant to people in other parts
of America. If your options for work are mostly in the service industry, and if
your choice of romantic partners is limited to the residents of a very small
town, this aspiration sounds absurdly entitled. Context matters, even in a show like this, which lives on the edge of
a stoner comedy. 

The difference between a show like Girls
and Search Party, however, is all in

the comedy and point of view. Like its much closer cousin Broad City, Search Party
demonstrates affection for but not acceptance of its characters. They are mostly
ridiculous creatures. Shawkat, who came into the entertainment world as Maeby
Fünke in Arrested Development, is
trying out something new by playing the
straight man. Dory’s desire to find out what happened to Chantal is
almost achingly sincere, but the show spends most of its first few episodes
signaling how plainly disastrous this whole intrigue will be to Dory’s sense
of self, even as she’s determined that finding Chantal is her only chance at
giving her life meaning.

Search Party is
really clever in how it goes about that. We have all the tropes of the usual
mystery show: the woman who says she knows something (Rosie Perez) but also has
something to hide; the mysterious but hot private investigator (Ron
Livingston); a cult of birth and taxidermy led by an unsettlingly sunny Parker Posey in a chic industrial neighborhood. We also get a lot of good comedy, like
John Early’s character watching an a capella group sing a version of Kelly
Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” at Chantal’s vigil. “Uhn uhn,” he sniffs.

But rather than being straightforward pieces of the puzzle, each
of these people is also a red herring for Dory. She is so determined to make
Chantal’s disappearance into a meaningful event that, on meeting Perez’s
character, she overlooks every obvious sign of trouble: vagueness, fits of temper, and
odd moments with strangers. The result for the audience is more than dramatic irony, somehow: It’s
almost like a contagious form of cognitive dissonance. We can see how nice it
would be, for Dory, if this encounter with a crazy woman actually meant something
at all. We can also see how stupid it is that she’s holding on to the notion
that there is a there there.

This toying with the audience’s expectations gives Search Party a curiously existential
edge. Without giving away the end of the story, it’s safe to say that this isn’t another True Detective. There is no big
conspiracy-type explanation of exactly what happened to Chantal. What there might
be is a big conspiracy-type explanation for is what happens to Dory as she pokes
around. Or maybe it’s just a cosmic joke.

Dory tells her friends at some point that her affinity to
Chantal is that Chantal, like her, is one of those people who falls by the
wayside, who is frequently “unseen.” Of course, the fact is that in her
misguided attempts to save this person, Dory isn’t really “seeing” Chantal
herself. The whole purpose of this detective story is to have the mystery
disintegrate even as Dory thinks she’s picking up more clues. Her heroine’s
journey, to get all Joseph Campbell on you, is constantly disintegrating. In
the end it might not even exist.

There is actually, in all that, something rather profound. For
all that this show presents itself as comedy, the whole thing is an attack on
the notion that some things are worth doing. It’s not quite nihilism, but it
does smartly put the whole notion of self-improvement—hell, of escape from the self—on blast. We are told that Dory isn’t
particularly talented, that she isn’t particularly smart, that she isn’t
particularly special. In another sort of show those Everywoman qualities would
be the stage for which greatness is set. In Search
, instead, Dory turns out to be just what she always promised to be: a
person who makes a lot of the wrong choices, for whom even altruism and
motivation are booby traps. Maybe that’s the real trouble with millennials,
these days. No matter where someone like Dory turns, there’s no real reason to
try or say or do anything.

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