Is there a more durable vehicle than the detective genre? There doesn’t seem to be. A staple in American fiction since the mid-19th century, and a staple of American cinema since the 1930s, the humble gumshoe continues to reinvent and repackage himself for new generations who have yet to learn the power of his unyielding ways.
Or should we say her unyielding ways? In the case of “Search Party,” we certainly should. The 10-episode season, released last month and currently streaming on TBS.com, stars Alia Shawkat (who played Maeby Fünke in Fox’s “Arrested Development”) as Dory, yet another aimless millennial living in Brooklyn who passes time brunching with her too-nice boyfriend (John Reynolds) and self-absorbed friends (John Early and Meredith Hagner).
Dory is self-absorbed too, but in a way that signals she’s beginning to question the world around her as well as the reasons for her own fecklessness in it. So when a causal friend from college – the memorably named Chantal Witherbottom – goes missing, Dory appoints herself chief investigator and brings her entitled friends along for the ride.
And what a strange ride it is. Dory’s pursuit of the gone girl pushes her outside the selfie bubble and into the orbit of some unsavory and unhinged characters, played by well-known actors including Rosie Perez, Ron Livingston and Parker Posey, whose performances add depth and dimension to the series.
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Millennial life in Brooklyn is hardly an original concept for a TV show, but what sets “Search Party” apart from the pack is its caustic satire. More of a dark comedy than a thriller, the show takes immense pleasure in skewering its young characters for their narcissistic cluelessness, while still generating a modicum of sympathy for them. They are, after all, just some 20-something kids, longing for meaning in their lives (and no, they are not going to find it staring at their phones).
The trope, of course, is that by searching for Chantal, Dory is really searching for herself. But as any fan of the detective genre knows, solving a case rarely brings relief, offering instead the unsettling realization that much human behavior is well beyond rational comprehension.
Streaming on TBS.com (for cable subscribers) and available for purchase on Amazon.