“Search Party”: The millennial cult classic you’ve never heard of



Do you remember the person you sat next to in your freshman year DNY class? Or was it philosophy? Remember, you lent her a pen one time and she complimented your t-shirt? Yeah, her – well, she’s gone missing. That’s right. 

Now what? 

This is more or less the plot of HBO Max’s (formerly TBS’s) “Search Party,” a show that has been hailed by critics as a “millennial cult classic.” 

Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat), a twenty-something Brooklynite, has no life or sense of purpose. She is aimlessly applying for jobs and living with her passive, hipster boyfriend Drew Gardner (John Paul Reynolds), when she passes by a missing person poster for a college acquaintance, Chantal Witherbottom. It triggers something in Dory, and she begins an obsessive manhunt to find a girl she occasionally passed by in the hallways of NYU. 

What unfolds is four seasons of absurdity. In a fascinating mix of satire and thrills, Dory drags her boyfriend along with her on her bizarre mission, as well as her friends; Elliot Goss (John Early), an attention-seeking compulsive liar, and Portia Davenport, a co-dependent failing actress. 

These are, and I mean it, the worst people you’ve ever met. “Search Party” takes every millennial stereotype you’ve ever heard – that they are lazy, entitled brats who don’t want to work – and amplifies it by a thousand to give us our protagonists. They are self-absorbed and dramatic. They lie, cheat, scheme, break up and make up – and every single second of it is hilarious. They very quickly become people you will love to hate as you can’t tell whether you’re rooting for their success or their downfall.

This hilarity is countered by themes of manipulation, guilt, paranoia and constant moral dilemmas and existential crises as Dory’s character transforms over the seasons and her obsession roots out a darkness she never knew was inside her. (No spoilers from me!)

“Search Party” aired in 2016 to low ratings, and after two seasons and a three-year gap, the third season premiered last summer on the newly released Warner Media streaming platform. 

Season 4 premiered last month, just when viewers thought the storyline could twist and turn no further, and we’re back where we started. This time, Dory is the one who’s gone missing. 

This season expertly toes the line between ridiculousness and relatable candor – oftentimes all at once – as it centers on themes of identity. There’s a moment where Dory tells the group that she doesn’t know her purpose. She asks them what gets them up every morning, and the conversation toggles between the universal desire to be here for a reason and the counterview, that “you just get up because you have to,” as Drew puts it.

The show’s ensemble is perfectly cast with actors who you might recognize from shows like “Broad City” (both Shawkat and Early have cameos in the show’s earlier seasons), or “Stranger Things” (Reynolds plays a recurring role as a police officer), but who are still relatively unknown. 

Early shines through in every single season, delivering his lines with the perfect amount of superficiality and melodrama. In Season 2 Elliot flubs his book deal and tells publishers in a hilarious monologue, “At first I thought it was writer’s block, but then I realized it’s just the discomfort of hard work. Working feels bad and I don’t ever want to work another day in my entire life; Oh my god, it feels so good to say that.” 

This season the satire is over the top with his character, as he sells his soul to be famous and work at a far-right news network where he gets live on the air to say he hates gay people as a gay man in America and manufactures bedazzled pink guns for his newfound fans. 

It’s almost strange that a show like this has made it as far as four seasons. With so many random B-plots, on paper it seems like the show would become too hard to follow or its characters too unlikable to bother tuning in. 

But, somehow, “Search Party” comes back every season with a fresh face and challenges for not only the characters, but us as viewers. I found myself falling in love with their shallow-yet-loving friendship and then questioning how I could possibly feel this way. “Search Party” truly asks its viewers: How far is too far? When does a person become irredeemable? I guess I’ll have to tune into season five to see.