TV: Search Party (Season 5)

In retrospect, Search Party was bound to lose its balance rather than stick the landing; what else would you expect from a show so recklessly committed to constantly reinventing itself? Even so, it manages to find a new low in its last year, which left me wondering when exactly the shark-jump happened—which, for all the fun I had binging it throughout, may have been right at the end of the first season.

At least this final year, knowing the end is in sight, sets a thematically shrewd target for itself. When notoriously awful quasi-celebrity Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat) recovers from a near-death experience bursting with a renewed love for life, she quickly takes to the internet to share the secrets of her enlightenment. Dory’s past misdeeds have pushed her besties away; ex-boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), pathological liar Elliott (John Early), and narcissistic actress Portia (Meredith Hagner) ended season four wanting nothing more to do with her. But Dory’s transformation and toxic magnetism lures them all back, especially once she catches the eye of tech billionaire Tunnel Quinn (Jeff Goldblum, totally Goldblumming it up). Tunnel’s vision (heh) is to work with Dory to package and monetize Dory’s enlightenment in the form of over-the-counter medication. They team up to make the dream happen, but…things don’t go so well.

Season five took me forever to watch, and ultimately, I think it was only my nostalgia for what was at first a consuming binge that got me through. Well, that plus a certain allegiance to its talented cast, especially Early and Hagner, who continue to shine even with this year’s poorer scripts. But somewhere along the way I stopped believing in the show, which began with a sharp, subtle point of view and gradually broadened and mutated out of recognition. That lack of belief starts with Dory herself; her cult of personality, which grew steadily through seasons three and four, never felt particularly credible, even within the wacky world of Search Party. Here in season five, it’s less credible than ever, as is the way her betrayed friends return illogically to her orbit. The result is a rather shrill and messy season that inflates the show’s frequent flirtations with speculative fiction into a full-blown lean-in. While the journey does deliver the series to an oddly short finale that provides  reasonable closure—let’s just say Dory’s search for relevance is tragically successful, and the final shot seals the message—the journey to that destination is extremely difficult to enjoy. A disappointing fate for an initially promising show.

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