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TBS is Looking for a New Audience With Shows Like 'Search Party'
November 21, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

TBS’s new offbeat comedy Search Party starts with the bad news and then starts getting better.

The bad news about Search Party, which premieres Monday, is that at first we hardly like any of the people with whom we will be spending the series. Also, the premise feels more like a one-liner than the basis for an extended story.

Fortunately, first impressions aren’t always set in stone.  

The fact viewers may warm to the show has less to with the plotline, which revolves around a darkly comic search for a missing young woman, than with the one character we’ve liked all along, protagonist Dory (Alia Shawkat).

She’s in her 20s, a few years out of college and spinning her wheels. She works as an all-purpose assistant to a rich socialite who serves as a useful cartoon, asking Dory things like “How come you’re so good at all the things nobody else wants to do?”

Dory’s a magnet for that sort of casual thoughtlessness. A random stranger on the subway spoils the ending of a book she’s reading.

Most critically, she’s living with Drew (John Reynolds), who has every irritating quality you could ever want in a boyfriend. He’s jealous, thoughtless, demanding, self-centered and lousy at sex.

We should note that sex comes up often here. It’s one of the building blocks of the new era at TBS and its sister TNT.

Dory also has two best friends, the narcissistic Elliot (John Early, right), a hustler in the hip New York arts scene, and Portia (Meredith Hagner, right), an actress. These three have known each other since college, where they also knew a woman named Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty).

Chantal has now gone missing, and Dory becomes obsessed with finding her. We don’t know why, though we suspect it’s mostly because she doesn’t have much else going on.

Also, Dory is pretty sure she saw Chantal after Chantal went missing. So the indifference of everyone else, including the police, only makes Dory more determined to find out what’s really going on.

It sounds like a story that can only last so long before it has to reach a resolution, so it will require creativity to make it into an ongoing series of half-hour episodes.

Happily, the writers have found a way to address that concern, by turning Dory’s friends into one of the most unlikely detective teams since the late, lamented Breakout Kings.

Once Dory gets the attention of her flighty, distracted, and airheaded pals, they become invested themselves. The thrill of the chase and all that.

Okay, a lot of what they end up doing is slapstickish and just plain silly. Juvenile humor is right in there with sex jokes as foundations for the new TBS world.

But the story itself somehow stays interesting, and there’s dry humor, relationship humor, and self-awareness humor that brings some diversity to the comedy.

Whether that’s enough to endear Search Party to those all-important younger viewers is an open question.

As part of that effort, though, the show is aggressively implementing what many television executives think is the viewing model of the future.

That is to say, Search Party’s release schedule is aimed almost entirely at viewers who watch online, not on television, and who like to binge.

TBS is releasing the first two episodes on the web at 4 a.m. Monday, with those same two episodes airing at 11 p.m. Monday on television.

All 10 episodes will be released this week, two per day.

You could say this show is part of television’s search party for viewers of the future. And don’t automatically give up when things at first don’t look too promising.

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I actually finished watching the entire series, and, for the most part, I liked it. Definitely different, but the ending is haunting. I love to see some discussion on it, but I'm not sure where to look.
Dec 24, 2016   |  Reply
Bob Lamm
I watched the first two episodes. Alia Shawkat was terrific. The rest is awful. All of it.
Nov 22, 2016   |  Reply
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