January 29, 2017

Search Party: Great Millennial Comedy

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The Urban Millennial is a prickly trope in comedy. Many have tried to parody the UM. Many have failed (See: The Great Indoors). Few have succeeded.

Think of the UM parodies you’ve seen. It’s likely something along the lines of a character with thick-framed glasses saying something like “I’m always on my phone!” or a BuzzFeed-esque publication employee wearing a beanie with Beats headphones around his neck holding an iPad and happily announcing “I’m, like, extremely, like, raw vegan.”

Okay, okay; these examples are clearly heavy-handed, but they’re not far off from what seems to be the mainstream sitcom-y version of an UM. These examples are also extraordinarily unfunny, primarily because they’re just untrue. It sometimes feels like the only people writing about UMs are old men hunched over legal pads muttering stuff like, “What if…this kid’s just always on his damn phone! Ha! That’ll get ’em. Write that down, Patrice. You’re a sweetheart. Damn shame I’m married! Am I right, boys?” then they all laugh and cough on their cigar smoke.

Parody is successful when a truth is overexaggerated to reveal a certain weakness. Parody is particularly unsuccessful when (1) an untruth is overexaggerated, (2) when a truth is overexaggerated to no effect and (3) when an easy truth is exaggerated so often that it becomes tired. Hence, why “UMs are always on their phones” and “UMs are all vegan” isn’t funny, at least not anymore.

When it comes to Search Party, though, the parody doesn’t come from exaggeration. Instead, it’s created through subtlety. Take, for example, Dory’s (Alia Shawkat) boyfriend, Drew (John Reynolds). Drew is uninspired, slow and overly dependent on Dory. In one scene, Drew draws Dory’s attention away from her search for the missing Chantal (Claire McNulty) by saying, “Babe. Baby. Yo! Babe! I need to eat now,” and then plays an awful song on his ukulele while Dory microwaves a meal. Drew is, by many measures, not conventionally masculine, and it would be so, so easy for the writers to make him into a caricature of those damn dumb, lazy UMs. In fact, the viewer expects Drew to be just that. Drew is, however, a much more complex, nuanced character, deeply in love with Dory but unaware of how to express his feelings. He is insecure, yet lacks self awareness of his insecurity. Drew is a real human being, which makes his character that much funnier. After all, who hasn’t seen or met a Drew?

The same goes for the other two main supporting characters, Eliott (the brilliant John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner). If the term “comedic edging” hasn’t been coined yet, I’m going to do it now; Early and Hagner are masters at taking their UM characters to the very edge of overexaggerration, but then stepping down at the last second. They don’t take the jokes to their absurd ends, 30 Rock-style. They stop them as soon as they’re on the cusp of escaping UM reality. The entire cast takes very specific steps to ensure that their characters are not caricatures, but actual people. Actual people, but still funny people.

The subtlety in the millennial humor is paired with an absurdly complex plot, which involves an affair with a shady P.I., a shiny non-profit tumbling to the ground after an egregious lie, and a birthing cult. The ending to this tumultuous journey (which I swear I won’t spoil!) manages to wrap up the season brilliantly through meticulous brinkmanship.

I loved Search Party. I highly recommend Search Party. In fact, if you’re willing to navigate TBS’s janky video player, I want you to watch Search Party right now (The free episodes expire on January 30th.). That said, Search Party’s glorious by-millennials for-millennials schtick is a little too complacent with its standing. While it pokes fun at UMs, it never reveals some of their macropolitical shortcomings. The show takes place in a pastel, idealistic Brooklyn, yet hardly alludes to the main characters being a conduit of heavy New York gentrification.

Search Party has a bit to go before it makes the most of its UM humor. Until then, it’s still a stellar binge watch to curb your post-syllabus week blues. After all, many have tried to parody the UM. Search Party has succeeded.

Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]