Elliot Goss: Search Party’s Subversive Monster

by thethreepennyguignol

Look, alright, I’ll say it: I’m obsessed with Search Party.

After the final chunk of the superb show was released in the UK earlier this year, I have been ear-deep in love for one of my favourite shows of all time. If you haven’t watched it already, I’m telling you, you need to: it’s a genre-spanning, razor-sharp millenial nightmare with one of the single best ensembles ever gathered together under a single show’s banner. I never stopped being surprised by it, even five seasons in, and, while I don’t think it’s always perfect, it was always totally watchable and very entertaining.

But, in my grand series of two articles about TV villains I love with all my heart, I knew I had to add a new one to the list. And that is, of course, John Early’s Elliott Goss.

Elliott is a very different kind of villain compared to the others I’ve looked at in previous articles, because he’s a protagonist too – he’s one of the main quartet of characters Search Party follows over it’s five seasons, and probably my favourite. Following a character this downright awful over this many seasons shouldn’t work, but somehow, Search Party pulls it off.

A malignant tumour of a fashion victim, Elliott is an endlessly, inventively repugnant character. From lying about childhood cancer to turning on the LGBTQ community he is a part of to make fat stacks as a right-wing talk show pundit, there are no depths Elliott will not sink to in order to get what he wants – whether that’s adoration, power, money, social currency, or yet another outfit that makes me want to jump into a river. He is almost completely unlikeable, but John Early finds a way to make him utterly watchable – I truly think this is one of the best performances of the last ten years or so, to turn a character so repulsive and slimy into someone you cannot wait to see back on screen. If Early retired today, he’s got an amazing legacy in Elliott and the five seasons of Search Party behind him.

But what I love so much about Elliott, and about Search Party in general, is how he subverts what we’ve come to expect from these kinds of characters. Search Party is an exercise in subversion – of genres, of character tropes, of story arcs, of all of it. A character like Elliot, taking up such a huge part(y) of the show’s focus, would, in any other story, be explained – his awfulness given reason and shape, if not an excuse. Why would he do this? What is driving him to act in such an impossibly, endlessly terrible way?

Search Party walks right up – almost literally – to giving us an answer to this, as Elliott returns to his rural home to try and get to the bottom of his problems. He confronts his mother, asks her what happened to him to make him this way – she admits something did go down, and is about to reveal the chilling event to both Elliot and the audience. But, when offered another opportunity to snake his way back into the good graces of the people who’s opinion he happens to value this week, Elliott decides it doesn’t matter, and leaves. That’s the last we hear of it. He returns to his horrible life unscathed, uninterested in finding out what drives him.

And I love it. Creating a character as horrible as Elliott and focusing so much screentime on him, in modern TV, usually comes with the promise that we’re going to get to the bottom of him – why he does what he does, why he’s so foul and unrepentant. Search Party completely subverts that, walking us right up to an answer and then rendering it pointless in a matter of seconds. What matters to the story is not why Elliot does what he does, but that he does it at all – is there really anything that could justify the sheer depths of horribleness he drops to, anyway? No matter what drives him, his deep nastiness is still his choice, his driving force. Any reason would feel like an excuse, and for the show to deny us that is downright brilliant to me.

Search Party takes great joy in subverting TV tropes, but none better, for my money, than with Elliot.

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(header image via Vulture)