Search Party Review: The Satire Pivots Wildly During An All-In Final Season

Few comedies have ever made as many hard left turns in their lifespan as "Search Party." The series, which began on TBS before moving to HBO Max, will finish its five-season run in January looking almost nothing like it did at the start. In season 1, the show followed four vapid friends as they looked for a missing college classmate. By season 5, the group has started a doomsday cult. Somehow, despite the bizarre last-minute transformation, the show still ends on a resounding high note.

When we last saw Dory (Alia Shawkat), she was experiencing a vision during a near-death experience while trapped in a fire. At the beginning of season 5, she wakes up a changed person, convinced she has to spread love and share her message of enlightenment. Dory has become a full-blown guru-in-the-making, and her friends aren't excited about it. Luckily for them, the hospital she's at makes getting someone committed as easy as ordering a hamburger. With Dory put away, Drew (John Reynolds), Portia (Meredith Hagner), and Elliott (John Early) feel free to get on with their lives.

Their tentative happiness doesn't last long, though, as Dory soon returns, more determined than ever. The brunt of the season involves Dory, her friends, and a team of Instagram influencer acolytes all working with an eccentric billionaire (Jeff Goldblum) to "sell enlightenment." The result is a season of television with nothing to lose: a chaotic, hilarious, surprisingly cohesive last hurrah that holds absolutely no loyalty to the world "Search Party" spent years building.

This Season Leaves Nothing On The Table

John Early has always been a series standout as Elliott, a trend-chasing, insecure gay man who also has a long history as a compulsive liar. This season is no different. The talented actor makes eye-rolling feel like high comedy and possesses a seemingly endless range of hilariously scathing and disgusted expressions. This season, Elliott and boyfriend Marc (Jeffery Self) adopt a synthetically made child after deciding a kid would be a "real conversation starter." The child they end up with is a creepy, glitched-out, ginger-haired terror, and it's deeply entertaining to watch the shallow couple struggle to deal with him. Elliott is given one ridiculous subplot after another throughout the season, and Early gamely tackles them all.

"Search Party" asks viewers to take some major narrative leaps with them in this last season, but in retrospect, the building blocks for Dory's descent into delusion are all there. The show proved it was excellent and unpredictable way back in season 1 when she ended up killing someone during a misguided attempt to rescue Chantal (Clare McNulty), a former classmate who wasn't actually in peril.

A sneakily clever satire, the series first laid the groundwork for a semi-serious mystery before revealing that our heroes are actually clueless, self-centered, and even dangerous. The new season follows that train of thought through to the end, but not to any expected conclusion. Instead, series writers take facets of Dory that already existed, like her sense of grandeur, and let them run wild, taking the series down an ambitious and outlandish narrative path that practically veers into fantasy.

One Last Interrogation of Ego

No matter how pie-in-the-sky it gets, "Search Party' is still, at its core, a biting satire about the rich and soulless. When they're given free rein to return to their old lives, Drew takes a job developing an app that uses big data to locate homeowners who are vulnerable to corporate gentrification. Jeff Goldblum's tech CEO Tunnel Quinn — a role the actor melts into perfectly — is a man of random obsessions and overblown proclamations. He's the kind of guy who, on a whim, promises the NYPD a fleet of self-driving cars that don't actually work. In the season premiere, Elliott makes plain the type of hollowness the series loves to poke at, saying gleefully, "We're adults, and adults don't care about making a difference!"

When Dory starts her cult, "Search Party" dips into tricky comedic territory, but it mostly lands its dark punchlines. One character, a British woman whose royal-adjacent mother is on a mission to save her from Dory's influence, has more than a little in common with real-life NXIVM survivor India Oxenberg. This, in particular, seems like an unnecessarily specific satirical swipe. But it's not surprising that "Search Party" thinks more about the feelings of the people starting a cult than the people joining one. Dory's narcissism disguised as altruism has always been the show's driving force, and in the final season, it's filtered through a new, enlightened perspective that impacts everyone around her. Shawkat plays Dory's transformation straight, and as a result, the character is somehow more bearable than ever.

"Search Party" is at its very best in its final form, with nothing left to lose. In the end, it makes sense that the world of "Search Party" looks nothing like it did when the series started because the final season is being unleashed on a world that looks nothing like the one the show came into in 2016. The wildly unpredictable final season is an enjoyably unhinged interrogation of ego in all its forms.