Contributed by Sophie Davies
There’s no denying that Netflix has transformed the way many of us consume TV in a relatively short space of time. I know people whose viewing habits have changed so much in the past few years that they now find new shows to watch almost exclusively by browsing Netflix. With so many shows to choose from these days and so many streaming platforms available (with even more on the way such as Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus launching later this year), it’s understandable that some viewers feel overwhelmed and want to make their lives simpler by having a single go-to place for TV. However, one result of Netflix’s rise is that a lot of high-quality US shows that come to the UK via other platforms tend to fly under the radar.
As a case in point, when Russian Doll was released by Netflix towards the beginning of the year and quickly became a hit, it made me think of another show with a similar vibe which I believe would appeal to the same viewers but has not been as widely seen as it deserves to be. I’m talking about Search Party, which is on TBS in the States (seasons 1 and 2 aired in 2016-17 and a third season is apparently coming soon) and has All4 as its home in the UK. Russian Doll and Search Party both have a similarly indie feel and involve New York hipsters becoming entangled in some sort of mystery, although in the latter, the hipsters are younger and the central mystery is more grounded in reality than Russian Doll’s is.
Search Party revolves around Dory (Alia Shawkat), a millennial who finds a new sense of purpose in her directionless life when she learns that an acquaintance from college has gone missing and makes it her mission to find her. Throughout the first season, as Dory looks for clues and follows leads – sometimes enlisting help from her drippy boyfriend (John Reynolds) and her self-absorbed friends (John Early and Meredith Hagner) – the show combines comedy with intrigue so successfully that, according to Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker, it ‘invents a new genre: the noir sitcom’. Then, without revealing too much about season 1’s ending, the equally strong season 2 focuses on how the group of friends deal with guilt and paranoia after committing and covering up a serious crime.
Another gem from the US currently hidden away on All4, and not receiving anywhere near the attention it deserves, is The Other Two. This Comedy Central show is about how siblings Cary (Drew Tarver), a struggling actor who’s working as a waiter when he isn’t auditioning for roles like ‘man who smells fart at a party’, and Brooke (Heléne Yorke), a former dancer who had to quit due to injury and hasn’t been able to find a purpose since, are affected when their 13-year-old brother Chase (Case Walker) becomes a pop megastar overnight. From music video shoots and film premieres to publicity stunts and a chaotic album launch onboard an aeroplane, it’s the sharpest satire of the entertainment industry since 30 Rock, as well as the funniest new comedy I’ve seen so far this year.
Social media plays a huge role in modern celebrity culture, and one of The Other Two’s key strengths is that its writers really get this. As a result, there are storylines that feel completely fresh, because they haven’t already been done before. For example, one episode sees Cary learn that he won’t be considered for a part unless he has a certain number of Instagram followers, so he befriends a group of ‘Instagays’ in the hope that they will tag him in a photo and boost his follower count, while another sees Brooke get caught up in a misunderstanding with an 11-year old beauty influencer who’s wearing so much makeup that she looks about 30. A cast of eccentric side characters also bring big laughs, including Chase’s desperate manager (Ken Marino) and ruthless publicist (scene-stealing Wanda Sykes), and amongst the biting satire there turns out to be a pleasantly surprising amount of heart too.
Last but not least, FX comedy What We Do in the Shadows is currently on BBC iPlayer in all its blood-sucking, rib-tickling glory. A spin-off from the 2014 film of the same name created by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (which you by no means need to watch first in order to enjoy the TV incarnation), the series moves the action from New Zealand to New York, focusing on a whole new group of undead housemates in Staten Island. British cult comedy favourites Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou star as hapless vampires Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja. Completing the unusual household is Nandor’s human familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who has been patiently serving his master for ten years in the hope that he will one day turn him into a vampire, and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), an ‘energy vampire’ who feeds off people by boring them.
Unashamedly silly and full of killer one-liners, What We Do in the Shadows is a lot of fun, and its writers mine the supernatural world for all the comedy they can. As such we get plots that involve petty feuds with local werewolves, Nandor preparing for a visit from a high-ranking vampire by decorating the house with “creepy paper” (crepe paper to us humans) and covering himself in glitter “like Twilight”, and Laszlo getting captured by Animal Control whilst in the form of a bat.