SEARCH PARTY (2016-2021)

(HBO MAX/hoopla) SEARCH PARTY would have been a memorable cult TV show even if it were a one season-and-done and, while I was a bit gobsmacked to see that it was renewed not twice, not three times, but four! — I had no idea how this show could sustain itself for a second season, much less five — it’s always had a very singular dry, but confident and clever, comedic voice.

The first season introduces us to a group of self-centered, off-putting millennials tearing themselves away from their guac-and-toast brunch to solve the mystery of a missing acquaintance they barely know, and matters go amazingly awry.

I can’t quite describe the following seasons without diving into spoilers regarding the end of the first season, but each season tackles a different sort of genre: the second turns into a crime thriller, the third a legal procedural, the fourth centers around a kidnapping, and the fifth jumps into the a cultish future before going full horror.

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your mind as to how all that works without it becoming some sort of Ryan Murphy-ish anthology series, I don’t blame you. On paper, it sounds absolutely bonkers and, in reality, it’s a high-wire balancing act without a net that they manage to walk without barely a wobble.

It’s the rare show that gets to have its cake and eat it too: the actors (including Alia Shawkat as Dory, the propulsive element of the group) imbue the characters with a certain quizzical ennui that is irrestable, so you both love and hate them. You get to see them reckon with their selfish attitudes, but also empathize with them. Add to that some whipsmart dialogue, vibrant cinematography, a haunting electro score, and a litany of fantastic cameos from actors you’d never expect to see on a TBS show* (including Michaela Watkins, Ann Dowd, and one of Louie Anderson’s final performances which, unsurprisingly, is amazing), and you have an idiosyncratic show for the ages (or at least for ages 25-40).

For those brave enough to endure a trailer for the first two seasons (and the second season spoilers are very vague):

  • It’s worth noting that the last two seasons were HBO MAX-exclusives.

CONAN (2010-June 24, 2021)

(TBS/YouTube) I’d love to say that I was a rabid viewer of LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN as a youth, but I don’t recall routinely tuning in for many late night shows back then.

However, I became more of an avid viewer as I grew older and Conan and his writers’ sensibilities have since informed an enormous part of my comedic taste. From Conan’s classic Simpsons’ ep MARGE VS. THE MONORAIL to Robert Smigel’s absurdity and filth to Andy Richter’s irreverent sidekick quips and on-his-feet reactions, not to mention Jon Glaser, Mike Sweeney, Jessie Gaskell*, Brian Stack, and so many more, penned and performed a treasure trove of smart and extraordinary dumb jokes.

That said, I’ve grown a bit worn out by him as of late. I still watch CONAN regularly, but the relatively recent change to thirty-minute eps excises many of the more surreal high-points of his shows. Worse, he’s been interviewing the same people over-and-over-and-over again for the past two years. I get it: he’s tired of a lot of the celebrity bullshit and he now only wants to talk to folks he has fun with, but the show has become rather routine.

However! Since opting to pull the plug on CONAN, this show has livened up a bit (even if he’s still primarily interviewing his favorite celebrities). A recent favorite moment was when Lisa Kudrow came by to promote the FRIENDS reunion special. Conan has been taping his show in the famous (well, to comedy nerds at least) Largo at the Coronet theater, and the two of them were able to take a walk down memory lane and visit the small stage where the two of met attending improv lessons. It’s surprisingly touching and sweet, and I hope the show leans into that sort of thing as it approaches the finish line.

  • Mike Sweeney and Jessie Gaskell hosted two seasons of the podcast INSIDE CONAN, which dove into the nitty-gritty of writing and producing the show, and it’s chockfull of delightful insight.

** If you haven’t watched CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP (2011, Prime/tubi/etc.), it’s a great character profile doc that was filmed around the time of his tour. It’s also a touch depressing.