Wallowing in a sea of ambition

I just watched the first season of The Search Party and I can't work out whether I like it or not. There was enough there for me to watch until the end, but I was frustrated by a lot of it, in particular the way that it feels like it was written as a comedy (and I've seen its genre described as a 'dark comedy' on IMDB and other places) but it's filmed and edited more like Black Mirror.

One thing did occur to me as I was watching it: part of the reason I didn't care about much of what was going on in the characters' lives outside of the main mystery/investigation plot was their absolute lack of drive. It's about millennials who don't quite know their place in society, what their lives are about and so on, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with a story like that, it's hard to root for people so lacking in drive over a whole series.

This is probably just a personal preference, and I doubt it's one I even subscribe to on a regular basis, but I do love stories where the characters are striving to be the best they can, even if they don't make it, or have to learn a lesson about not necessarily being the best along the way.

Star Trek epitomises this and was on my mind the whole time, mainly because I've been comprehensively watching Deep Space Nine, which has been a conspicuous gap in my Trek adventures. Every character is all about their jobs, and the stories often revolve around some personal quest: Dr Bashir, despite his previous tennis days, relishes the work he does on his assignment at the station, glad he didn't get the so-called top assignment on the Lexicon; Chief O'Brien transferred from the Enterprise for a better job; his wife, Keiko, is on Bajor at the moment after attempting to institute a DS9 school didn't work, getting back to her roots; the list goes on.

I think also of characters in the Discworld, like Captain Carrot and his relentless and honest approach to justice, Vetinari and his endless Machiavellian schemes to retain control of Ankh-Morpork, Rincewind's desire to stay alive and to have all the members of Unseen University actually working, and so on.

It's easier in a one-off story to make a tale of not knowing your place interesting, as it can be the entire plot. I just finally read Norwegian Wood and that has a protagonist who's not sure about his life in any way, not really having any ambition, and it was great. But overall, I do relish a character who is trying to accomplish something, even if they don't know for sure what that is yet – some discovery along the way is obviously narratively interesting and kind of necessary. Boring millennials who's outside lives don't really inform the main plot...meh. If their identity crisis isn't the plot itself, it just doesn't provide any narrative interest; it's all incidental, and over a multiple episode series, it becomes a bit tiresome. Which is why, as I said, my favourite parts of The Search Party were the bits that focussed on the slowly unravelling mystery. If the characters had a bit more going for them, or if their lack of identity actually had a story impact, it would have worked a lot better for me.

I'm probably being hypocritical about all of this and reading too much into a show that I ultimately only sort of liked; I bet I have hundreds of DVDs and books with driveless main characters to prove me wrong, but even so, I still think that a bit of ambition in these characters would have helped it along the way. Or if they'd actually done it as a proper comedy, then their ambition-free lives would hold some jokes and have some value.

(I'm probably about to realise the characters in my own writing are ambitionless morons incidental to the plot...hopefully not. To the keyboard!)