A Woman Launches A 'Search Party' For Someone Else ... And Herself

Nov 21, 2016
Originally published on November 21, 2016 7:58 pm

The new TBS show Search Party isn't just an amateur detective story — it's also a millennial comedy.

"The setting is the fast-talking, young world of Brooklyn," co-creator Charles Rogers tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "Dory and her friends all have job titles that aren't exactly real jobs and everyone has a very strong identity."

Dory is played by Arrested Development actress Alia Shawkat. When she learns an acquaintance has gone missing, she decides to investigate. The writers wanted to place an "existential quest" in an "environment that feels superficial," Rogers explains.

Dory and her friends are unquestionably self absorbed, but co-creator Sarah-Violet Bliss says the show pokes fun at everyone.

"Millennials or not, they're kind of punching bags no matter what," she says. "We both really like complicated, cringe-y, painful comedy and characters who are complicated and have flaws."


Interview Highlights

On why people make fun of millennials

Rogers: Millennials aren't so different from every other generation. It's just that there's more self-awareness in the millennial generation so they're more willing to make punches at themselves, and to hear what punches other people have for them — endlessly.

Bliss: [There are] more opportunities for them to show how self-absorbed they are with every type of social media. ... If you put yourself out there, then ... you put yourself at risk for being judged.

On aspects of their own personalities that help them write realistic characters

Rogers: We're both very self-aware and we're very self-critical and I don't think you're able to really write characters and write people deeply if you don't experience doubt, and if you don't experience confusion, and anxiety and all of the things that are life. ... I think we're representing characters who are lost, but I don't think you know being successful or ambitious means that you're found, necessarily. I think it just means that you keep going and you keep pushing past those things.

Bliss: I think that ambition is kind of clumsy and in order to be successful you have to run up against a lot of failure and a lot of uncomfortable situations. I think the characters that we're writing about ... they're trying to accomplish things in the wrong way.

On the depth of Dory's character

Rogers: At first, Dory is unlike her friends because she is the one who wants to feel that she's leading a meaningful life. But what we wanted to do was challenge that idea throughout the season because as Dory becomes more and more invested in this mystery she does find agency and she doesn't find it in all the right ways. Because you can't sleuth without being unethical. There's just no way to not invade people's privacy and lie and all the things you have to do to solve a mystery.

So at first you think Dory's the good one ... and then you realize that all of these friends are equally complex and equally gray. And there is no such thing as a good person and a bad person. There's just choices.

On wanting to make audiences laugh

Rogers: I think a lot of people will feel like the show is nihilistic or maybe too critical but I honestly feel like if you're laughing, then it's optimistic. And that is the way that we went about writing this, is that what we were making up was making us laugh because we felt like it was true.

On the takeaway

Bliss: I don't have like a specific thing that I want people to take away from it. I do want it to start conversations, and for people to be excited by it, and have fun watching it — and then feel horrible watching it, and have complicated feelings about it, and about themselves and about what it means to be a good person or not.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When the TBS comedy "Search Party" introduces its mystery - a girl gone missing - they do it over brunch with the heroine Dory telling her friends...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEARCH PARTY")

ALIA SHAWKAT: (As Dory) I mean, she's missing.

MEREDITH HAGNER: (As Portia) Well, where is she?

SHAWKAT: (As Dory) That's the question.

HAGNER: (As Portia) Why?

JOHN EARLY: (As Elliott) Portia, no one at the table knows.

HAGNER: (As Portia) Oh, my God, I feel like I'm about to cry.

SHAWKAT: (As Dory) I know, right? I mean it's insane.

HAGNER: (As Portia) Dor, did I sleep with that waiter a few years ago?

CORNISH: Dory's puzzled look at that self-absorbed reply says it all. Her friends' flip tweeting and disinterest in the face of a mystery drives her in the opposite direction. Dory is played by "Arrested Development" actress Alia Shawkat, and she decides to find the missing girl.

The writers behind this project are Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, and they join us now from our studios in New York. Welcome to the program.

SARAH-VIOLET BLISS: Thank you.

CHARLES ROGERS: Thank you.

CORNISH: This isn't just an amateur detective story, right? Like, it's this millennial comedy. And I'm not saying that as an insult, which I think sometimes these days when people write about this generation, in a way, they are. So, like, describe the setting for people.

ROGERS: The setting is the fast-talking, young world of Brooklyn where Dory and her friends all have job titles that aren't exactly real jobs, and everyone has, like, a very strong identity.

So what was important for us was to place a main character who has sort of, like, an existential quest to find meaning in life in an environment that feels superficial and that feels surface and...

CORNISH: Right, like everyone's hyper cool.

ROGERS: Yeah.

CORNISH: Everyone has a look.

ROGERS: And it's posturing.

CORNISH: Let's imagine that in all caps - the look.

BLISS: (Laughter) Yes.

ROGERS: (Laughter) Yes.

CORNISH: They're all really pretty self-absorbed (laughter) in a very funny way.

BLISS: Yeah.

CORNISH: I want to play an example here. When Dory sort of asks them for help in tracking down a lead on this missing girl, their reaction is this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEARCH PARTY")

EARLY: (As Elliott) Dory, first of all, we love you unconditionally.

SHAWKAT: (As Dory) I do, too.

EARLY: (As Elliott) OK, and we support you 100 percent.

HAGNER: (As Portia) And we are going to do anything for you - anything forever, forever.

EARLY: (As Elliott) As long as it's non-financial.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Just going to slip that in there.

ROGERS: Conditions.

CORNISH: This is a conditional love. Make no mistake (laughter). So it seems like the millennial generation is a little bit of a cultural punching bag, and you guys are not shying away from it. It seems like you kind of embrace it. When did you start doing (laughter) that? Like, how did you start to think about this?

BLISS: The millennial world is where this is set in, but I do think that both Charles and I and the characters that we make - whether or not they're millennials or not, they're kind of punching bags (laughter) no matter what.

We both really like complicated, cringey (ph), painful comedy and characters who are complicated and have flaws. And what is funny and tragic about those flaws are really interesting to both of us.

ROGERS: I feel like millennial culture is such a punching bag because millennials aren't so different from every other generation. It's just that there's more self-awareness in the millennial generation, so they're more willing to make punches at themselves and to hear what punches other people have for them endlessly (laughter). And so...

BLISS: Yeah, and there's just like more opportunities for them to show how, like, self-absorbed they are with every type of social media. Like, everyone's putting themselves out there. And if you put yourself out there, then you're - you put yourself at risk for being judged (laughter).

CORNISH: Right. Like, there were other self-absorbed...

BLISS: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...Generations, but they just didn't have their own websites (inaudible).

BLISS: Exactly. I mean you can read "Catcher In The Rye," and he's talking about that generation. And it seems like they were all just as phony (laughter) as everyone else.

CORNISH: It's interesting because you are successful. You did find your calling. What do you have in common with these characters given that, like, you aren't the struggling millennial who doesn't know what to do with their life?

ROGERS: I think what we both share is we're both very self-aware, and we're very self-critical. And I don't think you're able to really write characters and write people deeply if you don't experience doubt and if you don't experience confusion and anxiety and all of the things that are life.

So I - you know, I think we're representing characters who are lost. But I don't think, you know, being successful or ambitious means that you're found necessarily. I think it just means that you keep going, and you keep pushing past those things.

BLISS: Yeah, and I think that ambition is kind of clumsy. And in order to be successful, you have to run up against a lot of failure and a lot of uncomfortable situations. And I think the characters that we're writing about have a little bit less self-awareness than we do, maybe. I don't know. But still, like, they're trying to accomplish things in the wrong way I think.

CORNISH: It comes through. Both the self-doubt...

BLISS: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...And some of the most sort of poignant moments of the show are when a character reveals, like, a very high level of self-awareness.

BLISS: Right, yes, yes.

CORNISH: Sometimes that self-awareness is, I know I'm terrible.

ROGERS: Yeah.

BLISS: Yes, yes (laughter).

CORNISH: (Laughter) It's a universal feeling.

ROGERS: Yes.

CORNISH: But it was interesting that this is also a character - the heroine - who asks, is she - she asks, am I a good person?

BLISS: Yeah.

CORNISH: That's kind of intense.

ROGERS: Yeah. I think Dory - at first, Dory is unlike her friends because she is the one who wants to feel that she's leading a meaningful life. But what we wanted to do was challenge that idea throughout the season because as Dory becomes more and more invested in this mystery, she does find agency. And she doesn't find it in all the right ways because you can't sleuth without being unethical (laughter). There's just no way to not invade people's privacy and lie and all the things you have to do to solve a mystery.

So at first, you think Dory is the good one in the friendship. And then you realize that all of these friends are equally complex and equally gray. And there is no such thing as a good person and a bad person. There's just choices.

BLISS: Yeah.

CORNISH: What are you hoping that people take away from the show because it's pretty brutal (laughter)...

BLISS: Yeah, yeah.

CORNISH: ...A parody on your generation.

ROGERS: I think a lot of people will feel like the show is nihilistic or maybe too critical. But I honestly feel like if you're laughing, then it's optimistic. And that is the way that we went about writing this - is that what we were making up was making us laugh because we felt like it was true and it said something true about people.

And so if people feel like this isn't commenting on society in a helpful way, then I don't think you're looking at it in the right lens (laughter). I don't know. I don't know how to say that in a better way.

BLISS: (Laughter).

CORNISH: No, I definitely laughed. Sarah-Violet, what about you? What do you hope people take away from the show?

BLISS: I don't have, like, a specific thing that I want people to take away from it. I do want it to start conversations and for people to be excited by it and have fun watching it and then feel horrible watching it and have complicated feelings about it and about themselves and about what it means to be a good person or not but, like, essentially that if you turn over rocks, you're going to find some worms, you know (laughter)? And I feel like the end of the show has this very, like, powerful, important message that - I don't want to just say it.

ROGERS: No, we can't.

CORNISH: No, no, no, no spoilers.

BLISS: (Laughter).

ROGERS: It's so hard because...

CORNISH: The journey is the destination. That's what you have to tell people.

ROGERS: But then the destination, Audie - let me tell you...

BLISS: It moves. It goes on and on.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Thank you for talking with us about this.

ROGERS: Oh, thank you for having us.

ROGERS: Oh, my God, thank you so much for having us.

ROGERS: This is really cool.

BLISS: This is totally incredible.

(SOUNDBITE OF PURITY RING SONG, "OBEDEAR")

CORNISH: That was Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rodgers. Their show "Search Party" will play on TBS this week and is available online at tbs.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.