When it was originally on: 2016-present
Original network: TBS
Where you can stream it now: TBS.com w/cable authentication
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: Search Party is a single-camera dark comedy about four self-absorbed twenty-somethings who become entangled in an ominous mystery when a former college acquaintance suddenly disappears.
Why I picked it: I’ve mentioned before how hard it was to find basic cable scripted half-hour shows for The List. Search Party never would’ve made it before I started googling things like “basic cable comedies” and the like. It turns out this is one of those cases where critics love it, but it just hasn’t broken through into the mainstream yet. This thing has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, yet I hadn’t heard of it until I start researching tv trying to put my list together.
I’m always intrigued by the divide between what television insiders rally around and what the general public rallies around. That means studying the pilots of shows that are impressing both these critics. What does Search Party have that prompted a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes? What does it lack that more widely viewed shows lack? We shall find out together.
What I liked: I really enjoyed Julian. He’s nice, but brutally honest, and the idea of our best friend character being the protagonist’s ex is an interesting choice. I hope there’s more of him in future episodes, because it was a little unclear how big of a role he actually is in the series.
I will also say that while I have criticisms of Dory the character, Alia Shawkat does deliver a phenomenal performance in this role. It would’ve been easy for this character to come off as just another young adult trying to make it in New York City who isn’t doing. a particularly good job. In a way she still does, but she’s also reminds me of so many people I know who are struggling with how to move their life forward. I see the emotion and vulnerability that other actors might not have been able to convey. Kudos to Shawkat.
What I didn’t like: Dory is likable enough, but a relatively ho hum protagonist. This is yet another pilot that tries to make a protagonist work primarily by making us feel sorry for them, but it also doesn’t really do anything dramatic enough to make us feel REALLY sorry for them. Nothing huge has really happened to Dory. Dory’s clearly upset,
The fact that some girl Dory went to college with has gone missing is supposed to be somewhat of an inciting incident, but if it incites anything, that something doesn’t really happen in the pilot. Yes, Dory is having a bit of a quarter life crisis but we don’t really get a strong sense for how much of that was already happening before Chantel went missing. If this show is about searching for a missing person, the pilot should be about searching for a missing person. If the missing person is a relatively inconsequential plot device used to move Dory’s character arc forward, I wish I could’ve seen more of Dory’s character arc start moving forward.
This is also another one of those that feels more like Act 1 of a movie rather than a complete story unto itself. It lays groundwork for an interesting story, but ends just as something interesting is starting to happen. All set up, no satisfaction. That CAN work, but it usually works best for shows on streaming platforms where the whole season drops at once and most viewers are just going to let autoplay carry them into the next episode anyway. I don’t think it makes as much sense for a basic cable show where I have to make a conscious choice about whether or not Episode 2 is worth my time one week from now.
Yes, it’s certainly possible that future episodes will deliver the kind of drama that is maybe potentially being set up here in the pilot. But I don’t really know. Part of why I like pilots with a solid plot twist or something that vaguely resembles a climax is that it reassures me I’ll get more such moments in future episodes. Because Search Party plays with its cards so close to its chest, I’m left wondering if the show actually will find ways to build up to more interesting stories, or if this is just the style the creators were going for and it doesn’t gel with me.
Do I want to Ep. 2: Based on this pilot, not really. Again, it’s a pilot review, not a show review. This is one of those cases where the fact that I didn’t particularly like the pilot is more of a motivation to keep watching simply because I still want to see what the hype is about.