If there is a television show that has managed to harness the energy of the Trump era—the mania and the chaos, the absurdity and the delusion, the creeping nihilism and the suspicion that things might spin out of control—and channel it into something special, without ever explicitly referencing politics, it is “Search Party.” For five seasons, Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’s satirical whodunnit has followed a group of twentysomething friends who set off to find a missing peer as a means of validating their own lives. The show whipsaws across tones and genres with abandon, leaning into its own insanity and its characters’ misapprehensions.

When “Search Party” first aired on TBS, in 2016, it was presented as a winking commentary on millennials, but it quickly abandoned that premise, morphing from a Nancy Drew-style mystery to a screwball court procedural to a psychosexual thriller. The show’s fifth and final season, which premièred last week, takes on themes of cult worship and eccentric entrepreneurship (think Elon Musk and Elizabeth Holmes) before unspooling a zombie-apocalypse plotline. (It also guest-stars Jeff Goldblum.) At the center of the show’s mess is Alia Shawkat, the actress who plays its protagonist and seductive villain, Dory Sief. We’ve watched Dory evolve from an aimless Brooklyn millennial to a murderer to an online folk hero to a mental patient to a cult leader. She’s the hardest type of character to play: someone so out of touch with herself that she is constantly becoming a new person.

For Shawkat, “Search Party” has also represented a career renaissance. The thirty-two-year-old is no stranger to television notoriety: at fourteen, she got her break playing the role of Maeby on “Arrested Development,” a show that initially flew under the radar before it acquired a devoted fan base. Maeby, a moody teen-ager with a renegade sense of humor, became iconic enough that she defined Shawkat’s work for a long period of time. Now “Search Party” and Dory have become cult favorites in their own right. Shawkat is, in many ways, the consummate modern entertainer, keeping her hands in many pots. She helped produce “Search Party,” and wrote the 2018 experimental indie film “Duck Butter.” She’s a devout painter, and she’s working on a new TV show based on the life of her father.

Shawkat was in New York City in December to attend the première of “Being the Ricardos,” an Aaron Sorkin project that chronicles the behind-the-scenes crises of “I Love Lucy.” (Shawkat plays one of the show’s writers.) With her signature freckles and mop of curls, Shawkat is unmissable in person, and also disarmingly frank. We spoke over breakfast about the end of “Search Party,” her friend Brad Pitt, and being half Iraqi.

“Search Party” has always been about chaos and tone-shifting, but this season really goes off the rails. Do you like the note it’s ending on?

We blow up the world this time, and it feels like the appropriate ending.

It’s funny. When the show first aired, it was characterized as this millennial critique. But now nobody even cares about millennials.

I think, even at the beginning, the show was mocking the idea of caring about millennial stuff. Dory is a character who’s so obsessed with discovering who she is, to the point of actually killing someone by mistake. The showrunners have always done a good job of being aware of the culture we’re living in, and making the show a satirical thing. And never taking it too seriously. That’s what’s funny about my character—she’s taking everything so seriously, and the rest of the world has gone haywire.

Do you spend any time with Zoomers?

I have a small group of Zoomer friends. There are a lot of things they don’t know about, but they don’t want to know.

Like what?

References. Even just film references—actors, etc. They just don’t have the need to impress. And you’re, like, “But I spent so much time learning about this!” I feel like, when I was younger, it was all about seeming like I knew about a lot of shit. From something as benign as movie references to . . . bad sex. All my twenties was bad sex! But the Zoomers are, like, “No, we only have beautiful, connected sexual experiences.” Well, good for you.

Also, people in my generation battle their relationship with Instagram and social media. They’re on it, but they hate themselves for being on it. The younger generation doesn’t even question it. They’re, like, “Whatever I do is up for grabs to share publicly, and what’s wrong with that?” I very much enjoy taking long breaks from my phone.

In this season, Dory becomes a kind of wellness guru with a cult-leader edge. Did you get into any cultish figures while preparing for this season?

Dory kind of has the Theranos vibe, but I was more into Ram Dass, who I love and used to listen to back in the day.

There’s a plotline about an enlightenment pill, which is unleashed on the public prematurely. Was there any connection to the vaccine there, or concern that it might be perceived as a commentary on vaccines?

I think it’s more commenting on the idea of packaged wellness. Don’t do the work, take a pill! It’s easier. Not to judge medication that saves lots of lives, but it’s about this concept of “How do you get happy as fast as possible?”

Are you susceptible to dogma about wellness?

A little bit, but not really. I’m still trying to quit smoking. I’m not as balanced as I’d like to be. I do yoga. I get depressed, and yoga is the only thing that really brings me out of it.

Did anything about making “Search Party” change when you migrated from TBS to HBO Max? A bigger budget?

I was hoping for a budget increase. [Laughs.] But there was not. The only thing I would say is, the writers didn’t have to write to commercial breaks. It’s better for the writers—we’re free to have it flow. And now I feel like people can actually see the show. When we were shooting in Brooklyn—especially in Brooklyn—you could tell the viewership had increased. People would see us out and on the street and be, like, “That’s fucking ‘Search Party’!”

You’re credited as a “creative producer” on the show. What does that mean?

I was always involved creatively, from the beginning. At first, we didn’t know if it would be anything—it was this pilot presentation idea. We made the pilot like an independent film, kind of, before it was attached to a network. I think that’s also why I was able to be the lead, because if “Search Party” was already attached to a network it would have been harder for me to be the star of a TV show at that time.

Why would it have been difficult to cast you as the lead?

If it’s on a certain network, you have to screen test. We were able to make “Search Party” exactly as we wanted it, and hire the actors we wanted to hire. It was super grungy and lo-fi—stealing shots on subways, wearing some of our own clothes. All the crew was super young. There was nobody there telling us how to make it, and what the tone is. When you’re trying to explain a show to suits, it’s, like, “Trust me, it’s going to be funny!” They don’t get it.

“Something about being an actor is really embarrassing to me,” Shawkat says.

Have you ever tried to sell your own show?



Source link

Leave a Reply