When Search Party debuted on TBS in 2016, it began as a mystery that followed four self-obsessed millennials — protagonist Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat), her boyfriend Drew Gardner (John Reynolds), ditzy actress Portia Davenport (Meredith Hagner), and self-diagnosed narcissist Elliott Goss (John Early) — who, in hopes of finding a purpose in life, go on a quest to track down their missing college acquaintance Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty). Now in its fourth season, after finding a new home at HBO Max, the show has come full circle, as the freshly acquitted Dory is the one missing rather than the one doing the searching.
In the final moments of season three, Dory is kidnapped by her crazed stalker Chip (Cole Escola), and season four, which comes six months after the third’s finale premiered, picks up right where it left off: with Dory being held captive in a Massachusetts basement that Chip has terrifyingly recreated to resemble her New York City apartment — except it is made entirely out of felt. As Dory is imprisoned and begins to suffer from a kind of Stockholm syndrome, Chip attempts to brainwash her into thinking that he is her only true friend by convincing her that her friends are to blame for the murder of Keith Powell (Ron Livingston).
Oblivious to the fact that Dory has gone missing, her friends attempt to move on with their lives without her. Drew, after also being recently exonerated, tries to distance himself from the city by getting a job as a character at a theme park; Portia lands a part playing Dory in a true-crime film about their trial titled Savage: The Dory Sief Story; and Elliott takes his role as a far-right Conservative talk show host to the next level, becoming a full-on Republican as requested by the network. Eventually, the three see through Chip’s ruse of photoshopping Dory’s social media posts and realise that Dory might not actually be travelling around Europe, so they once again form their search party in hopes of finding out what has happened to her. Co-creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers use this half-hearted attempt at searching for Dory to once again explore identity as Drew, Elliott, and Portia become increasingly self-aware of their past actions.
Search Party is certainly not a stranger to having fantastic, scene-stealing guest stars, and the latest season is no different. Previously, the show featured Parker Posey as a cult leader, Rose Perez as a loopy real estate agent, and Shalita Grant as Dory’s fashionable, vocal-fried defense lawyer. This season, Busy Phillips plays an actress who is hired to play Portia in the aforementioned made-for-TV production, Ann Dowd is Chip’s nosey neighbour, Susan Sarandon plays Chip’s equally deranged mother-aunt Lylah in a two-episode arc, and R.L. Stine appears in a cameo role.
Despite being four seasons in, Search Party continues to reinvent itself through various genres. The show started off as a biting Nancy Drew mystery infused with millennial humour, then season two leaned towards being a psychological thriller, and season three entered courtroom drama territory. It’s difficult to classify season four as one specific genre: sometimes it is more horror-driven, other times a social satire, all the while staying true to the show’s dark comedy roots.
The highlight of this season is the phenomenal performances from the ensemble, especially Shawkat and Escola, who make a fantastic on-screen pair. Shawkat showcases her range through a tour de force performance that reminds us just how good she is, and Escola is brilliant and perfectly cast as the unhinged villain.
Just like the previous seasons, the fourth ends with a shocking cliffhanger that perfectly sets the series up for a fifth season. Season four is the show’s darkest and most bonkers yet, and Search Party is probably the funniest and most entertaining show on TV right now, which makes it perfect for pandemic viewing.
Search Party S4 is available to stream on HBO Max in the USA now
by Jihane Bousfiha