A version of this story about “Search Party” first appeared in the Comedy & Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
The fourth season of “Search Party” picks up almost exactly where the third left off: Dory (Alia Shawkat), having just come off a highly publicized murder trial, finds herself held prisoner by superfan “twink” Chip (Cole Escola) in a high-tech basement. Besides the horror of a steady diet comprised only of mealy chicken nuggets, Dory quickly discovers another gasp-inducing reality in captivity: Her living quarters, modeled painstakingly after her own apartment, are completely made of felt.
And not just a few items. Everything from her bookshelves to her lighting fixtures to her bathroom shower to (yes) the kitchen sink is plusher than Elmo’s elbow. “The concept was that of an asylum, a padded room trying to create this soft universe to show to Dory that Chip’s friendship is better than her actual friends,” said production designer Danica Pantic, a textile artist who often works in embroidery who was hired by showrunners Charles Rogers and Sarah-Violet Bliss to create Dory’s new reality.
“Her entire apartment cage had to be entirely built. So there were some things that we kind of cheated with, like some of the pieces of furniture and kitchen appliances and the walls had a cardboard skeleton” said Pantic, who has worked on the show since Season 3.
Pantic explained that most everything you see is made solely of felt, and she even included some fun visual Easter eggs for fans, including a felt vinyl of a Deee-Lite album seen couch-side that nods to Chip’s constant playing of the 1990s dance group’s ubiquitous hit “Groove Is in the Heart.”
The delicate set also had to be a focal area for cast and crew (in one hilarious bit, guest star Ann Dowd attempts to open the “windows” as an inquisitive, loquacious neighbor who ends up trapped in the apartment with Dory), which proved dicey at times.
“It was very, very obvious the moment you stepped into the space that everything is precious, and you shouldn’t f— around,” Pantic says with a laugh. “We tried to choreograph the scenes as much as possible to only feature certain items that we knew were going to be used and some were just left alone as much as possible.”
Pantic, whose creations here comprise the opening images of her own website, cites British installation artist Lucy Sparrow as a key inspiration. “I even reached out to her at one point thinking that we could afford to just commission her to do the whole thing,” she noted.
But she and her team managed to crank it all out in around two months with a team of 10 to 12 people every day, with Pantic taking the lead on most of what is seen in the kitchen.
“One of the things that’s kind of a bummer we didn’t get to show was the inside of the refrigerator. We had all sorts of food in there: pizza slices, fruit, vegetables,” said Pantic, who would love to entertain the idea of public showings of the set but admits intellectual property rights could prove a stumbling block. But at least a little part of her creations will always remain near to her. “I did take a few pieces of fruit and some eggplant to keep,” she said.
“Search Party” is now available to stream on HBO Max