If you spent your Thanksgiving holiday powering through the entire first season of Search Party, you’re not alone — we did too. And we were left with plenty of questions for the cast and crew, especially after that surprise finale.
Fortunately, we got answers: Star Alia Shawkat (a.k.a Dory) and co-creators Michael Showalter, Sarah-Violet Bliss, and Charles Rogers hopped on the phone with EW to talk us through the entire first season of their spellbinding mystery-comedy series. Read on to find out more about the finale, the show’s moral perspective, and how Dory and Donald Trump may have more in common than you’d think.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell us a little about the origins of the show and where it came from.
CHARLES ROGERS: Sarah-Violet and I both have this history in our family. We’re both very interested in personalities on the fringe of narcissism and sociopathy and entitlement. So, there are personalities and characters that we really like to represent. It was just a new adventure for us to be able to put people like the ones we like to satirize in a place of danger, and genre, and mystery, and that was like a totally new thing for us.
And Alia and Michael, what drew you guys to the project?
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: I knew that they were really talented writers and directors when I knew them at NYU [as their professor], and then they made this movie, Fort Tilden, which is great and hilarious and different. When I moved out to L.A., I hired them to work with me on Wet Hot when we did our first season for Netflix. They wrote on the show and did a great job. And I was interested in helping them think of a TV project that they could do, and so we partnered and thought of this idea based around all of our mutual interests in comedy, but also wanting to do something that had a mystery element to it. Sarah-Violet and Charles just kind of ran with it and centered it around this Dory character, which is where Alia came.
ALIA SHAWKAT: I was sent the script and I opened it in my email and I really just liked it right away. I have been sent a lot of… not to sound like I was in a position to not do television, but we’d get sent a lot of stuff and just wouldn’t go out for it because I didn’t want to be on a TV show — I especially didn’t want to do a character that I don’t want to do for a long time. But when I got this one, it didn’t even read like a TV show to me. It read kind of more of like a film story in a way, that it was kind of subtle and interesting and I liked the tone.
How do you guys think Search Party connects to Fort Tilden? What’s the through line?
SARAH-VIOLET BLISS: I think that both Fort Tilden and Search Party have this neediness of people in their 20s, trying to figure out in what way they’re going to contribute to the world, and how that contribution is going to be seen by others.
ROGERS: They both address ethics… The same way that Allie in Fort Tilden wanted to go to the Peace Corp, and you were never quite sure if she wanted to go because she was a good person or for slightly nebulous identity reasons, I think that that’s sort of a through line of this show, too. I feel like in this day and age, when people are representing themselves publicly at all times through social media, I feel like every choice you make and you profess to the world that you’re making, is suddenly… There’s no way that you can make a life choice, tell people about it, and not have self-awareness about the fact that you’re making this choice publicly.
Dory is seeking something in this pursuit by looking for Chantal: Is she doing it because she wants to be seen as a good person, is she doing it because she wants to genuinely save somebody, is she doing it because she would hope to be saved herself, if she was in the same position? So, there’s something both Sarah-Violet and I love about the gray area that makes people uncomfortable. I really like making people uncomfortable in that way, because I feel like it’s daring people to examine what they might not want to admit about themselves.
Tell me about the final episode and that ending. What should viewers make of it?
SHAWKAT: So much of what she’s projecting turns out not to be real. And to not get too heady about it, but life is kind of just made up of protections that we decide to give ourselves, how we value ourselves, how we value other people, what excites us and what doesn’t. And so given that, I think that when I discovered as an actress that that was the ending, when we got that script, I was so excited because it gives every answer or every kind of reason you could hope for in any choice you make as an actor. Because at the end of it, it’s not that it’s all for naught. It’s more like: Well, what does it matter? What does ANYTHING matter, really?
In a way, Dory really is a narcissist and a slowly revealed one. So I don’t know, I think that’s an interesting story to tell — like, how dark we really are and how much we decide to show people. We convince ourselves with so much.
BLISS: I think that the ending is trying to illustrate this claim about how when you’re searching, there isn’t an answer to what you’re searching for, and that you can make anything out of nothing. And these connections… it’s kind of an Occam’s razor thing. It’s always the simplest answer — it’s not like, oh, she was part of a cult and then the cult this, this, this, and that.
ROGERS: Once we decided the ending, and that that would be where the meaning of the entire show comes from, then we liked the idea that everything that’s said about Chantal in the pilot — that she was probably just having a moment — is actually the truth. So, ultimately, I think the show is really about Dory’s psychology. If you want meaning so badly in life, if you want to find meaning, you’ll find it, because you’ll create it.
So, ultimately, none of the mystery is true, but everything Dory wanted to be true, is, in a way, true, because she was making it true. By the end of the series, she actually has manifested a mystery, or danger, or whatever, because they’ve killed someone. They were living in the normal world, and Dory wanted them to live in the mystery world, and by the end of the show, they actually are in mystery world, because she has summoned it.
So Elliott, John Early’s character, in the end was rewarded more or less for his lies — he gets a book deal and is on the cusp of fame. Should he have been punished, or is that the point?
ROGERS: I think that his storyline, more than anything, contributes to the theme of ethics that the show has throughout. If you want to view these characters in terms of being bad people, it’s like, who is the worst person? Is it somebody lying for narcissistic reasons about having a disease, or is it someone who drags their friends into, ultimately, killing a person? I think everyone has a different relationship to whether or not you can think of them as being a bad person. It’s just about how you decide who is a bad person, and sometimes your friends are the people you have to make those decisions about.
SHOWALTER: Hopefully we’ll have a second season and we can continue to answer that question. The idea is that there is karma and it’s like, how long does karma take to come back, if ever?
We also felt like his character… We sort of developed a character who’s a pathological liar. We really liked that idea, that element of people who lie with impunity and seem to benefit from it — the idea that truth is just whatever you say the truth is. There is no actual truth, it’s just whatever you say it is. And then if you say that enough, you’ll actually get rewarded for that, and those kinds of people are scary. That’s a very scary kind of person because how do you have a society if truth is just whatever you say it is? Or right or wrong is whatever you just decide to say is right or wrong? There is no actual right or wrong — it’s just literally however you want to feel, and there’s something very intoxicating about someone who actually lives in that.
SHAWKAT: Yeah, like Donald Trump.
SHOWALTER: Like Donald Trump and seemingly everyone in his orbit.
The counterweight to Elliott in a lot of ways is Julian (Brandon Michael Hall). He’s almost like the moral center or the voice of reason Is that how he was intended to be?
SHOWALTER: Kind of, although he’s got his own issues. He’s self righteous. He sees himself as above the fray. I mean, again, like in the Sarah-Violet and Charles universe, every character has some pretty sharp spikes on them and nobody gets to be just a nice person. Everybody is really off in some very significant way, and I think Julian does have a very strong sense of right and wrong, but he also has a holier-than-thou quality, and he can be cruel.
BLISS: He’s that kind of person who doesn’t really see the world in grays. He represents a mentality that says, “This is good, this is bad, people who do bad things are bad people, that’s how it works,” which we think is an argument to be discussed and not just taken at face value.
All these characters, obviously, are millennial creative-class urbanites. I’m wondering, are these issues, these questions of narcissism and losing sight of what’s right and what’s wrong, specific to this generation?
BLISS: I feel like every generation has its way in dealing with it. Our generation expresses it a lot through social media, and their narcissism comes out in passive-aggressive dialogue, but that has been true, I think, for all of time. Jane Austen writes about it, the narcissism of the 20-something, and navel-gazing has been written about forever. I think this is just how it’s expressing itself today.
ROGERS: Yeah. I think every generation has entitlement and narcissism. This generation has self-awareness about it, and that’s sort of the defined difference. I think that’s why we were able to make a TV show about it: This is the first generation to actually be willing able to examine that, and I think that’s really the only difference. I actually think millennials aren’t necessarily all that special, or different from other generations. I think it’s just that this is the first generation that’s willing to analyze itself for hours on end. So, I think that’s where the self-awareness of the show and these characters come from, is being willing to admit these things.
A cheesy question, but: What do you think Dory was really looking for?
BLISS: I think she wanted to find that she was valuable, and that she was good, and that she sees things that other people overlook, and that she finds something special in herself that she can feel good about.
ROGERS: I think Dory wanted to find a feeling that was different from the one that she was living, in the same way that people who really want fame expect for fame to be a feeling. Or people who seek enlightenment, I feel like there’s always this idea that on the other side is a feeling that you really want, and ultimately, I think that doesn’t exist. So you end up working with the consequences of having chased a feeling.
And finally, Chantal is an interesting name. Is there a specific reason you guys chose it?
ROGERS: [Laughs] It was really funny, we just thought, if there’s going to be a character you didn’t see very often that you had to hear the name of a lot, Chantal Winterbottom is, like, a really great name.