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A Primer for the Satirical Mystery TV Series Search Party

Compelling mysteries and a gripping cultural critique.

search party primer
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  • Photo Credit: "Search Party" via HBO Max

At this point in the pandemic, we've all basically watched everything Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime has to offer forward and backward. But if you're a mystery fan looking for a new show to binge watch, don't discount the treasures that HBO Max has in its catalogue. One of its best shows? The 2016 mystery-comedy cult hit Search Party.

The show was first introduced to audiences on TBS, where it was greatly under-appreciated and canned after only two brief seasons. However, the execs over at HBO have recognized Search Party's fresh, unique, and deeply compelling value and revitalized the series for new seasons straight to their streaming service. It's fourth and most recent season premiered this January, and a fifth has already been announced. So why should you sit down and commit before more is released? Here's a simple rundown of why Search Party is your next great watch.

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While Search Party has its fair share of laughs, it's truly a thriller at heart. And a good one. The series begins with a tale of classic obsession supported by a phenomenal cast. When a woman—Chantal Witherbottom—is declared missing, her college acquaintance Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat) becomes enthralled by the case. Despite the fact that Dory hardly knew Chantal at all, her disappearance is enough to break through the millennial haze of jaded, melancholic despair so well known to twenty-somethings. Aided by her social circle—her "nice guy" boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), struggling actress Portia (Meredith Hagner), and wannabe socialite Elliot (John Early)—Dory tries to find the truth behind Chantal's disappearance, which she believes is related to cult activity.

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Hand-in-hand with the first season's compelling mystery is a refreshing look at the outer world. While Chantal's disappearance is a central focus for the characters, the show uses it expertly as a device to highlight the flaws of its protagonists—and indeed a generation. Exploring and critiquing the attitudes of millennials, Search Party puts a spotlight on generational narcissism. From lying about a terminal illness for attention to blocking the rest of the world out in favor of self-advancement, Dory's social circle isn't short on self-absorbed flaws.  Dory is the guiding hand of the show, seemingly exemplifying sensibility and compassion as she urges her friends to care about someone they don't directly know. Yet Dory is driven by dissatisfaction, and her ulterior motives have consequences which lend to the great twists of the show.

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  • Photo Credit: HBO Max

Amid wild plot twists, Search Party has a grasp on the desperate groping of twenty-somethings to be heard over the clamor of their peers. Consumers to their core, Dory and her friends are always in search of something more. And it's that search that makes the waters they navigate murky.

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Search Party is a show which always keeps its viewers on their toes. While the frame mysteries might not always be ultimately relevant, their feigned relevance propels characters into ill-advised action. Through very real and very human flaws, Search Party underscores the fact that sometimes "heroes" are the villains all along, and sometimes "victims" should be left to their own business. It's a show which touches on privilege, accountability, sensationalism, and a parasitic need for entertainment and importance. And while it's an issue that can be neatly attributed to a generation which has been largely broadcasted by their upbringing alongside the internet, these are truly problems which have been perpetuated for a very long time.

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  • Photo Credit: HBO Max

Search Party has taken a significant tonal shift since its transfer to HBO Max. While the humor is very much still present in the show, it's woven in with a bit more subtlety and nuance. Certainly the drama and thrills have taken on a darker tone. Season three and four dive into the psychological ordeal of trauma and grief—two themes which are often left out of media representations, despite being ever present in society.

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This is a show which doesn't adhere to an obsession to wrap everything up neatly. It's known for cliffhangers, as well as a denial of "happy" endings. Change and growth in real life certainly isn't linear, and Search Party—despite it's satirical foundation—seems to have a devotion to staying rooted in something deeply human and real.