If you’re into dark comedy, Search Party remains hysterically funny, but season four dives into the possible karmic retribution Polly Danziger (Michaela Watkins) hinted at last season, which is genuinely upsetting psychological ground to cover. Immediately following their “not guilty” verdict in season three, Drew (John Reynolds) and Dory (Alia Shawkat) try to move on. Drew goes to work at a Disney-esque theme park, pretending to be from South Africa to escape his new notoriety, while Dory, as far as her friends know, is gallivanting around Europe. Really, though, “the twink” from Elliott’s wedding, Chip (Cole Escola), has kidnapped Dory and is holding her hostage in the basement of his Aunt Lylah’s home (Aunt Lylah is, naturally, played by Susan Sarandon). Meanwhile, Elliott (John Early) finally finds the attention he craves as a celebrity news commentator, albeit on a conservative news channel, and Portia (Meredith Hagner) is at long last cast in a movie…playing Dory in a lurid crime recreation drama.
As the friends’ lives continue to spiral down—even successes feel like setbacks—so does the show continue to get darker. There is more murder, more lying, more betrayal, and Dory is so twisted by her own guilt and Chip’s bizarre brainwashing that she attempts to literally run away from herself. Happiness is impossible for these people, so even as the show remains as funny and well-crafted as ever, it does beg the question of where it is going. Season four ends on another cliffhanger, in case there is a season five, but at some point, Search Party will need to confront whether or not it—being the universe of the show—believes people can change for the better, or if bad people remain bad people and never do get their just desserts. At some point, Dory either needs to just get away with it all and continue being terrible, or she should face some measure of justice. Chip seemed like the universe’s way of righting the scales after Polly Danziger failed to bring Dory to justice, but the last shot of season four implies Chip failed, too. Every season has ended on a cliffhanger, but this one particularly feels like Search Party not wanting to pick a direction.
Something that does work extraordinarily well this season is the release format of the episodes. Ten episodes were released over three weeks, in two blocks of three episodes and a final block of four. This splits the difference between weekly episodes, which is inarguably better for the show’s cultural longevity, and bingeing, which audiences have come to prefer (just look at all the complaining about WandaVision, a weekly show that would actually benefit from bingeing). Search Party feels uniquely constructed for this release format, with each block of episodes having their own specific rise and resolution of dramatic tension. The first block is, “Will Dory escape?”, the second block is, “Will Dory’s friends find her?”, and the third block is, “Will Dory’s friends save her?” Each episode block answers its question while continuing to build on longer story threads like Portia’s movie gig, Drew’s relationship with his theme park princess, Cindy (Rebecca Robles), and Elliott’s newfound infamy. And, of course, there is that larger question of where Search Party is headed that propels it forward. I hope more shows experiment with this kind of hybrid release schedule, it offers unique possibilities combining long and short-form storytelling (which only further blurs the line between “movie” and “tv show”, an increasingly irrelevant and arbitrary division).
Search Party has always been a bold show with gimlet eye focused on its characters, but season four is the most unrelentingly dark and bold concept yet. Dory and her friends escaped criminal justice, but the universe seems to be out to get them. Their punishments are scaled to their various crimes—Elliott and Portia were accessories to Keith’s murder, so they face personal and professional setbacks in tune with their selfish and dishonest actions. Drew accidentally killed someone, so he is incapable of achieving the nuclear normalcy he once craved; and Dory, the deliberate murderer, is trapped in Millennial Misery. I hope Search Party does get another season so that show creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers can take a stab at a true resolution for these characters. As enjoyable as they are to watch spinning in endless terrible circles of solipsism and privileged angst, it would be nice to see what the people behind Search Party consider to be the fitting end of these characters. If this is it, though, then Search Party goes out on an appropriately dark and surreal note, making it the Twin Peaks of Millennial dark comedies.
All seasons of Search Party are now streaming on HBO Max. Seasons three and four are not yet available in Canada. Will update when this happens.