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Search Party marches to its own rhythms and is best watched from the beginning, to get the full flavour.HBO / Crave

So here we come to rest again. Harried, sullied and anxious in mid-winter, the outlook unforgiving. Whatever gets you through it, I say. Honestly, I nearly died with delight watching the St. Tropez episode of Emily in Paris on Netflix. It has come to that. When Sylvie walked out of the sea, as if in homage to Ursula Andress playing Honey Ryder in Dr. No, I was thunderstruck. This is how we live these days.

Two series helped me get through the gloomiest part of 2020. One was Loudermilk (three seasons on Amazon Prime Video), a peach of a laid-back, smart comedy. It’s also under the radar. Title character Sam Loudermilk (Ron Livingston) is an irascible former music journalist, four years sober and sort-of employed as an “abuse counsellor” helping addicts stay clean. A complete misanthrope, he’s grumpy with everyone but essentially good-hearted. The show lopes along to its own comedy beat.

Search Party (season five now streams Crave) was another saviour of a show. A disjointed delight, it also marches to its own rhythms and is best watched from the beginning, to get the full flavour. The fifth and final season takes its satiric but serious riffs on contemporary twentysomethings to a new level. It is similar to Lena Dunham’s Girls, but only if novelist Thomas Pynchon, he of the grim humour about human alienation, was the executive producer. See, it’s not just that the four central characters are dumb; they are also numb, their frivolous preoccupations becoming a series of existential crises. Also, there’s the fact that each season is a subtle spoof of TV genres. The writing is exceptional, which may account for the array of guest stars: Wallace Shawn, Ann Dowd, Griffin Dunne and Susan Sarandon have appeared.

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It all started in season one when four dopes found a purpose in their aimless lives. They are Dory (Alia Shawkat), her boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), pal Elliott (John Early) and other pal Portia (Meredith Hagner). Dory comes to believe that a young woman she knows vaguely, one Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty), is missing, possibly kidnapped. None of them are quite sure they even know Chantal, but they form a search party. Drama and comedy, both surreal and searing, ensue.

The friends are looking for meaning and direction, but also for material to post on social media. When they actually encounter the more adult world, they inevitably become unstuck. Sometimes, though, they accidentally become a media star or a victim. Somehow, in a later season, Elliott becomes a right-wing TV star and Dory, also after becoming a well-known figure, is kidnapped and held by a crackpot named Chip Wreck (Cole Escola) who, like, totally just wants to be friends. Oh, and after Dory becomes famous, Portia plays her in a TV movie.

Created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, Search Party manages to become an addiction.HBO / Crave

In the final season, the series goes for broke in the satire department, but keeps the humour as strangely delightful as ever. Dory, who started out as a wannabe do-gooder saving a missing girl, has had a near-death experience and believes she has found the secret to inner peace. Everybody plays along with this and an especially interested party is a wily tech CEO, one Tunnel Quinn (Jeff Goldblum), who hires Dory and her gang to make this inner-peace thing into a saleable commodity. Some important people on the internet – that is, Instagram influencers – will be roped in to further the project. A near-death experience turns out to be an astute career movie, until it isn’t any more.

What happens is fun and a biting take on flawed young people floating in a world where the frivolous trumps profundity every time, but the two are often confused. If you enjoyed the Swiftian satire that is the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up, you will appreciate and savour the strange shenanigans going on here.

Created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, Search Party manages to become an addiction. It’s a fascinating and often ferocious take on contemporary love, friendship, fame and delusion. And yet it has heart, as Dory remains an intensely compelling character. It’s a wild trip, but a perfect excursion from the mid-winter doldrums we live in now.

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