Review: ‘Search Party’ Turns Up Clueless Sleuths of Brooklyn

Alia Shawkat and John Reynolds are among the millennials who pursue the mystery of a missing person in “Search Party” on TBS.

In a television season full of nonconformist new comedies, TBS’s “Search Party,” beginning Monday, is one of the odder ducks.

It’s a mystery, more or less, and it comes in the 10-episode package that we recognize as the preferred format for serialized thrillers these days. But it’s also a comedy of millennial angst and entitlement, with a sleuthing team of four self-absorbed, 20-something Brooklyn types whose lineage runs from “Seinfeld” through “Broad City.”

The show’s creators — Michael Showalter (“The State,” “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”), Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers — appear to have asked, “What would happen if we took a missing-person story and made the amateur detectives really obnoxious and clueless?” It might sound like a difficult premise to stretch over five hours (two half-hour episodes are being shown over five consecutive nights this week), but the result is surprisingly entertaining and even, here and there, moving.

Alia Shawkat of “Arrested Development” stars as Dory, who one day is transfixed on her walk home by a poster announcing that Chantal, a college classmate, is missing. Dory is caught in the Great Generational Depression — she works as a personal assistant for a rich woman who asks her why she’s “good at doing all the things no one else wants to do” — and the plight of Chantal (whom she refers to as a friend but barely knew) has a double effect. It fills her with existential dread, making her wonder whether anyone would notice if she were to disappear. But it also invigorates her, providing something to focus on, or perhaps, as the story quickly indicates, to scarily obsess over.

Dory’s friends and reluctant, sometimes willfully obstructive partners in detection include a narcissistic actress, Portia (Meredith Hagner), and her condescending gay bestie, Elliott (John Early), both funny. The fourth member of the Scooby gang is Dory’s boyfriend (John Reynolds), a well-meaning but grouchy and immature wage slave who’s the anti-Ned Nickerson to her anti-Nancy Drew.

The idea of a mystery as something that can pull a disaffected millennial out of her malaise loses most of its interest as the story goes along, but it offers a diverting background for the consistently amusing (if minor) comedy of manners. Ms. Hagner and especially Mr. Early carry the weight there, embodying, respectively, entitled insecurity and secure self-importance. (Happily chattering about his childhood traumas, Elliott distinguishes between those he actually was subjected to and those “that I maybe felt were a part of my journey but I didn’t necessarily experience.”)

It would be easy to overrate “Search Party” for its novelty, and the humor, while frequently sharp, is often of the sideways, trailing-off variety that won’t hit every viewer’s pleasure centers. But the cross-pollination of genres clicks just often enough. When a character who’s in hiding says she’s been afraid that “someone is going to come in and, like, clean, or, like, sublet,” it’s the lament of the Brooklyn couch surfer taken to a new and sinister level.