The fourth season of hit dark comedy Search Party has been drawing comparisons to Stephen King’s seminal Misery, but in its final few moments blows up that association and pays homage to its first season, completely undoing everything the viewer has come to believe.
The 10-episode arc features Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat), who has been kidnapped by crazed fan Chip (Cole Escola), and things get very dark.
“It was definitely an intense season,” Shawkat tells Supanova, just hours after the finale has aired.
“It really took its toll on my body. It was winter and the scenes are really heavy and my body was really tense the whole time because, physically, my body doesn’t know I’m just acting. I was definitely happy when it was over.
“It was still fun, but I was pretty tired after this season. It was a fun challenge for me. They really encouraged me to go for it, so I just went forward. I was like, ‘Hopefully, it’s not too dramatic.’ But I just had to go for it.”
Unlike previous seasons, where Dory has been surrounded by the “gang”, a.k.a. Portia (Meredith Hagner), Elliott (John Early) and Drew (John Reynolds of Stranger Things fame), and enjoying some of the more comedic and ‘bright’ elements of the show, season four’s premise meant that, by definition, Shawkat was always going to be largely in that “intense” headset for weeks.
“I think I’ve learned, especially over these past four seasons, just as an actor to know how to hop in and get out of it in a way,” she tells.
“I was excited every day to do it, but it was more challenging as an actor, where you have to become like an athlete; where you’re just like, ‘I can’t do other stuff for two months, I just have to focus on this.’ Even if I have a scene where I’m sobbing and saying, ‘I hate myself,’ I have that in the back of my mind where I need to get to, but I try not to live in it anymore.”
For viewers, part of Search Party’s appeal is how it balances its dark and comedic tones; you’d struggle to find a show that better defines the genre of dark comedy.
“It guides you to this heavy place and right when you’re about to be like, ‘Oh my God,’ they throw a joke in there to be like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s fake – we’re just having a good time,’” Shawkat says.
“I love that combo. It’s my favourite kind of genre, really.”
Despite Dory and co committing several crimes, getting caught and somehow acquitted, become viral stars and more across its run, Search Party has remained grounded.
“I think that’s something that we really work hard to do, especially as each season does, as you said, get more surreal and arced,” she says.
“It just gets really crazy. At the end of the day, we’re just like, ‘Let’s just make sure this thread is still truthful, and make sure her goal, her search for identity and what she’s going through is still, not necessarily relatable, but honest.’ Then you could throw in whatever ridiculousness and it still feels balanced. It still feels like it has a core to it.
“I think that’s also the strange tone of the show, even in the first season, is that there’s lots of comedy, but I’m still playing it very straight. I’m playing it fully like, ‘This is real.’ I think that sets off the humour so well for all the other stuff. Even the other performances, as funny and arched as they are, are still very real. There’s still a groundedness. It still has to play, you know what I mean?
“It still has to make sense on a base level and then you can have more fun with it. Because otherwise you stop caring for the characters and then no matter what happens you don’t really care. But if you’re attached to the characters, then no matter what happens, like an alien lands, and you believe it. It’s a hard line to ride, but I think we try and hold onto that as much as we can.”
Not only did Shawkat deliver a stunning performance in season four, she also made her professional directing debut via episode eight, The Imposter.
“It was so much fun,” she enthuses. “I’ve obviously worked really closely with the crew doing 15-hour days with them and stuff, so it was a great shorthand that I built with them. So I think by the time I was becoming director and we did the production meeting, everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re the director.’
“It felt really cool and it didn’t take me long to understand how we all communicate because it’s such a group effort. You’re getting ideas from everybody and you just have to learn how to stay calm and answer all the questions. It’s such a group effort, so I just had the best time. I loved it. I wanted to keep doing it.
“It’s challenging because a lot of things that I realised was when a budget’s really low and you only have so much time… we would have three locations in a day and in that morning the producer Jake Fuller would be like, ‘So you have to choose one of these locations. We’re not going to be able to shoot them all three.’ I’m like, ‘Huh? What are you talking about? I need all three?’ So you just have to accommodate every day.
“They’re like, ‘We don’t have this.’ I’m like, ‘But I said I wanted a blue hat.’ They’re like, ‘We only have black. Sorry.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s think of a creative way to figure this out.’ I really enjoyed it. I had such a good time.”
And as for season five?
“I think it could happen,” Shawkat says. “I think we have one season left in us, for sure.”
All episodes of ‘Search Party’ are now streaming via Stan.