When we’re introduced to Search Party’s protagonist, Dory (Alia Shawkat), she’s going through the motions in a stagnant relationship with Drew (John Reynolds), who generally whines for Dory to fix him a microwave dinner when he’s hungry and uses her for his solo sexcapades.
Professionally, the facilitator of a job interview tells her she’s “stuck” and senses her “immobility”, while the woman for whom she works as a part-time assistant, Gail (Christine Taylor), marvels at Dory’s ability to be “so good at all the stuff no one else wants to do”. Dory is painfully aware of her aimless predicament. “Everybody can tell me what I can’t do, but nobody can tell me what I can do,” Dory complains desperately to the aforementioned interviewer.
Though my generation can relate to Dory and co.’s millennial malaise — I’ve had to move back in with my mum after not being able to secure a lease in the increasingly cooked Melbourne rental market; many of my friends flit from casual retail/hospitality/admin job to another; and as we near thirty we’re mostly all single and worlds away from starting families, if we want them at all — Search Party wraps all the worst stereotypes about us, like selfishness, attention-seeking and impulsivity, up into a Nancy Drew-style murder mystery.
Dory’s quest for identity and purpose draws her to Chantal (Clare McNulty), a young woman she went to college with and spoke to less than a handful of times who’s gone missing. Underemployed and desperately seeking meaning, Dory becomes obsessed with uncovering the riddle of Chantal’s disappearance, seeing signifiers and clues where there aren’t any, only coincidences. “It’s like it’s meant to be,” Dory says.
You can imagine her despair when she finally finds out what happened to the elusive Chantal, who embodies everything older generations abhor in us, her selfishness and lack of self-awareness grating on even the most empathetic of millennial viewers. “I thought, ‘This is my chance to get away from it all and find myself.' It’s been great to be off social media for a while,” Chantal tells Dory, oblivious to the hell she’s gone through to find Chantal and herself.
To some degree, everyone in Search Party is faking it, pretending to care about childhood cancer or a missing classmate when they’re really just waiting for a break in the conversation to talk about themselves, like Portia (Meredith Hagner) and Elliot (the brilliant John Early). In Dory’s case, though, she doesn’t believe she is worthy of attention which is why she co-opts Chantal’s story.
We’re a generation that no longer has a plan set out for us, making it hard for our elders to understand that we don’t necessarily lack direction but outlets to funnel our drive into. Gail tells Dory to make marriage a priority in her life, but why would she want to end up a flighty and alcoholic housewife whose husband we never see throughout the course of the series? Arguably the most successful of Search Party’s aimless foursome is Portia, who's a “working actor” in crime show Surviving Essex, but her own mother (played by the incomparable Christine Ebersole) downplays her accomplishments.
There are no real jobs anymore, resulting in the rise of unpaid internships like Drew’s, casual and part-time employment, and the collapse of traditional career paths our parents and grandparents have taken. The recent announcement of the lowering of the HECS repayment threshold will likely make many students rethink tertiary education, considering a degree no longer guarantees employment in a well-paying industry.
My day job since I graduated from a professional writing degree has been in customer service, and I’m currently sleeping on a futon in my mum’s spare room. No wonder so many of us are content to stay at home while we save for a deposit or simply figure out what we want to do with our lives. It’s not hard to see how any of us could end up where Dory does, minus the cloak-and-dagger.
As a friend told me when I asked her opinion of the show, “We have to create our own jobs and find something that makes us necessary.” And that’s exactly what Dory did. Too bad it didn’t pay.
Search Party is streaming now at SBS On Demand.