In the US: Nightly, 11/10c, TBS
One of the conclusions of Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalisation was that thanks to individualisation and the Internet, people are now more invested in the virtual world than the real world, making political solutions to problems all but impossible.
So now you’ve seen the documentary, here’s the dramedy: Search Party. Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat is an aimless twentysomething, drifting through life without any real ambitions or interests of her own, it seems. But she’s no different from shallow boyfriend John Reynolds, shallow gay friend John Early, shallow actress friend Meredith Hagner and shallow ex-boyfriend Brandon Micheal Hall, all of whom are more invested in texting, Twitter and selfies than anything real.
But then Shawkat spots a missing person’s poster for a college friend who’s disappeared and decides to investigate, perhaps in an effort to connect properly with someone else. Can she drag everyone else back into the real world with her to help her?
Despite airing on TBS, whose motto should really be “We’re occasionally funny, but never as much as Comedy Central”, Search Party is barely a comedy at all; it’s also a lot smarter than you’d expect, thanks to the likes of indie movie makers Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers (Fort Tilden, The Color of Time) on the writing team.
The show is in part a cry for self-involved millennials to reach out and connect – and it has some acute observations about how disconnected everyone now is. Reynolds would rather masturbate to his own fantasies in bed than have sex with Shawkat when she’s right next to him. Neither of them know what to do when they hear sounds of domestic violence in a neighbouring flat, so they do nothing, even when glass starts smashing. No one remembers anyone else, unless there’s an online record of their actions, and no one is willing to commit to anyone else if it draws them out of their bubble, their fear of the real world and real feelings is so great. Hagner even has to turn to a writer on one of her TV shows to ask for his advice on what an event in the real world might mean, and no one is that sure about what’s real and what’s not, anyway. After all, Hagner is an American actress pretending to be a fictional actress pretending to be a policewoman who works with another American actress pretending to be an English actress pretending to be an American policewoman. Can anything be trusted to be real or has everything been hypernormalised now?
But at the same time, the show is more complicated than a simple hippyish “why don’t we all just reach out and touch someone to make the world a better place?” It has a New York-mistrust of others and strangers. When Shawkat reaches out to someone, they turn out to be crazy or aggressive; when Reynolds finally tries to help the abused woman living next door, she simply shrieks insults at him until he goes away. Even when Shawkat goes to the police for help with the missing girl, the police are equally atomised, unwilling to become involved in another person’s life to help her, and Shakat, as with the rest of her peers, lacks the social skills to persuade them, instead resorting to insults herself.
The show is almost too clever, with metatextual references to Anna Karenina (“She dies at the end”) and comments about how the search is often more interesting than the discovery are almost designed to put you off watching further. Yet at the same time, it’s not clever enough. Like the oddly similar Girls, it gives you a set of pampered heroes and heroines you want to die a horribly fiery death. Unlike Girls, it has almost no wit or comedy to alleviate that desire, making it an almost Scream-like show, crying out at the loneliness of modern life yet not making the alternative look any better.
Search Party is an interesting idea that’s as alienating as its characters are alienated. I don’t want to reach out and join this party, I’m afraid.