BINGE-R #45: Search Party + Chewing Gum
SEARCH PARTY S1
Streaming Service: SBS on Demand
Availability: All 10 episode streaming from 9.30pm tonight
This is really, really good. Search Party kicks off at the same point Girls began – post-university ennui for a group of 20something friends living in Brooklyn – and turns that stance inside out with equal measures of generational satire and genuine mystery. Tone-wise it should be a mess, but this American series works so well because it embraces the gap between who we think we are and how people actually see us. It takes knowing pleasure in our rubbery identities, accentuating the comic distance for its Millennial subjects, and each 22 minute episode is so tightly executed that it almost never lags.
As the personal assistant to a rich housewife, Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat, a.k.a. Arrested Development’s Maeby) has made even less progress than her boyfriend, business graduate Drew (John Reynolds), her actor friend Portia (Meredith Hagner), and wildly narcissistic pal Elliott (John Early). When she learns that a college acquaintance she hasn’t seen in six years, Chantal Witherbottom, has gone missing, Dory is struck by both the unexpected loss and her own feelings of inadequacy. “I’m trying to think of a way to remember her,” Dory tells her friends,” and what’s unspoken is Dory’s fear that her own absence would draw equally blank shrugs.
Search Party’s creators, Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, fillet the definable facets of these young Americans, from Portia’s upspeak to the aggressively polite exaggerations Elliott expertly traffics in. The third episode, mainly set at a vigil for Chantal, is rife with black humour, from the event’s hashtags (#IamChantal) to the comic cruelty of painfully uncertain filler conversation. But the series also begins to reveal the characters as people: you start to sense Portia’s discomfort at how people treat her like a cliché. The handheld camerawork finds telling chinks in the persona of this unlikely gang of amateur sleuths.
Dory’s obsession with Chantal, played to an intriguing pitch by Shawkat, may be self-serving or altruistic, but her lack of life experience puts her at risk however she ventures forth, and the plot presents knowingly old-fashioned clues – Chantal’s copy of Anna Karenina comes with suggestive sentences underlined – as something the haphazard quartet struggle to decipher. As they become invested in the case, which has a lingering weirdness that recalls the great Jonathan Lethem novel Motherless Brooklyn, the dynamic between Dory and Drew changes, which is probably welcome since in the first episode they share what is the television year to date’s most awkward sex scene. There’s so much, you realise, that Dory is searching for.
>> Bonus Binge: Search Party co-creator Michael Showalter is best known for Wet Hot American Summer, the cult 2001 independent feature that Netflix commissioned an unlikely – but often hilarious – sequel to in the daft shape of 2015’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper are part of an ensemble cast ridiculously too old for their roles, and it’s a pleasure from start to finish.
CHEWING GUM S2
Streaming Services: Netflix
Availability: All six episodes now streaming (plus S1)
This is a landmark moment for BINGE-R. Chewing Gum, a deliriously idiosyncratic comedy beamed in from the mind of creator and star Michaela Coel, is the first show I’ve reviewed that’s debuted a new season for me to return to. Set on a London council estate and concerned with the misadventures of Coel’s Tracey Gordon, the daughter of devout Christian mother looking to go her own way, the first season got a glowing recommendation in BINGE-R #2 [review here]. If you haven’t seen the debut batch, start with the review and then dive in – collectively those six instalments run shorter than a Michael Bay movie and are way smarter.
The second season hits the same notes: confessions straight to the camera, madcap schemes, filthy humour as a desperate means of fitting in, and a tender honesty that seeps in through the debris. Tracey remains as verbally brisk as ever: “Is this wide-legged hyena your new girlfriend?” a doll she’s holding that represents her asks a doll representing her ex-boyfriend, Connor (Robert Lonsdale), and the show remains keenly focused on the childish behaviour – for better or worse – of the nominally grown-up. The show’s winning touch? Tracey’s never the victim or a punchline. She sets her own course.
>> Want BINGE-R sent to your inbox? Click here for the twice weekly e-mail.
>> Looking for a previous review? Check the BINGE-R Index.