So many elements go into a screenplay that it’s difficult to say which one is the most important (though that hasn’t stopped us in the past). Different genres require different things to succeed, but for a screenwriter just starting out, perhaps the definitive make-it-or-break-it element is voice. “Voice” is that vague amalgam of dialogue (how the characters speak), description (how the screenwriter describes the character’s actions), and theme (what the screenwriter has to say about the world at large) that makes the screenplay feel unique. It’s something that writers develop after putting in tons of time and effort, but it’s the thing that elevates a good or decent script to the next level. It’s how writers get repped, get staffed, and get hired.
One of the best recent shows with a strong, unique voice is Search Party. Created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, the show is perhaps the first truly millennial comedy series (which is no coincidence since Bliss and Rogers were both born in that 1981-to-1996 window). It’s reflected in the characters and themes, which satirize and poke fun at the most self-absorbed and “online” people in that generation. The plot follows Dory (Alia Shawkat doing what she does best) as she and her friends involve themselves in the disappearance of an acquaintance—”That girl, Chantal Witherbottom”—despite the fact that none of them have seen her in years. As they search for her and investigate her disappearance, they find red herrings, coincidences, and, yes, even some danger. The show quickly proves itself as a hilarious noir/sitcom hybrid, though it slowly becomes more serious as the series goes on.
Bliss and Rogers were Showalter’s students at NYU before eventually joining Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer miniseries (both of which Showalter co-created) as staff writers. A lot of that success was undoubtedly because of their unique, wickedly funny voice as writers. Although some things changed from page to screen (as is inevitable with any script—no pilot is finished until it’s filmed and edited), the screenplay is a worth while read. The writing style is fun, colorful, and confident, three elements that most screenplays could benefit from. And the show itself is one of the sharpest satires of the decade.
We’re getting two more seasons starting next year (the show was formerly on TBS but will migrate over to HBO Max once that launches), and we’re eagerly waiting to see where the story goes.