Search Party is a pretty complex show. It follows multiple interwoven storylines between four different lead characters, while still trying to highlight the main plot. Within the show’s intricate plot design, several themes are heavily outlined. Season 1, episode 8 of the show (The Return of the Forgotten Phantom) explores the themes of dishonesty and self-interest through Elliot, one of the series’s four main stars.

Elliot, a narcissist and compulsive liar, is finally outed as a big fat phony. Once a successful water bottle mogul and philanthropist, his entire life’s work crumbles after a magazine article uncovers his biggest lie to date: he didn’t actually have cancer in high school. In fact, Elliot was actually in play that year (or was he?), which would have been too physically taxing for someone undergoing radiation therapy.

So here’s the big question: was Elliot justified in his lie? He exploited his fraudulent cancer for sympathy, fame, and influence. On the other hand, it fueled charitable endeavors distributing clean water to impoverished African villages. The pragmatic cynic in me wants to bash the show’s writers for making this issue so gray, but even I can still decode the message the show is trying to convey. The Return of the Forgotten Phantom is a warning to the viewer; an explicit message that lying, no matter what the intention, will always have some detrimental consequence.

You tell ’em Sammy

Elliot’s lies have the greatest impact on Portia than any of his other friends. Portia gets her just desserts, though. She outwits Elliot at his own game, spinning a mendacious tale about her father to spark his sympathies. Elliot sputters out an apology, really-truly-sincerely, until Portia reveals she “was only telling you that story so that you would think I was really cool and empathize with my struggle.” Ouch.

The beauty of this show lies in how dishonesty and deception become so important to the four leads that they end up tearing their lives apart due to it. Elliot, Dory, Drew, and even Portia become so caught up in the web of lies they’ve spun that bad things keep happening, even after they save Chantal (sorry, spoiler). Season 2 of the show further explores this notion, but this post isn’t about season 2.

The episode also explores how the consequence of ongoing dishonesty “might be the biggest punishment for a millennial like Elliott, who’s used to using social media for affirmation” (Chavez). That line from an AV Club review of the episode really highlights the bigger picture here: in the age of social media, people IRL aren’t ever who they say they are online. Hundreds of apps exist to retouch Instagram photos; you could literally make a fake profile pretending to be someone else. So where do we draw the line? Is it okay to bash someone like fictional Elliot, while the real life Kardashians and their fake diet teas are still terrorizing our news feeds? How can we champion truth when we eat dishonesty for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?


Works Cited:

Chavez, Danette. “The Collateral Damage Is Accumulating on Search Party.” Review of The Return Of The Forgotten Phantom. AV/TV Club,