[Spoilers for the twist at the end of Search Party Season 1 — if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it!]
Search Party’s first season was a diamond in the rough of Peak TV. Its 10 episode run felt more like one long movie than a series, as each bingeable episode ran a curt 20 minutes. Yet in that short time, TBS’s quirky show (created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter) was able to weave an engrossing and deeply funny story of four Millennial misfits searching for a missing girl, in the ultimate hopes of finding (or manufacturing) meaning in their lives. Even in its most outrageous scenes and a lampooning of its leads’ shallow lives, it was earnest and winning. The juxtaposition of their mostly fake problems weighed up against the potential real tragedy of this missing girl, whom none of them have a real connection to, led to potent storytelling.
At the end of Season 1, though, a murder takes place, and it made me worried for the future of the series. Chantal (Clare McNulty), the girl who Dory (Alia Shawkat) and her friends were looking for turned out to be fine. But Dory had created a fantasy about Chantal being abducted, possibly by a strange investigator named Keith (Ron Livingston) interested in her case. That drama between them became so overwhelming that it led, accidentally, to Keith’s death at the hands of Dory’s boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), while their friends Elliot (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner) became complicit in the act of covering it up.
That’s where Season 2 picks up, as the quartet decide to go to a nice dinner before figuring out how to dispose of the body. It’s the same humor of Season 1 but applied to something much darker, and the show takes on a different tone because of it. Throughout the first six episodes available to critics, Dory, Elliot, Drew, and Portia deal with the aftermath of their actions in way reminiscent to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Without realizing it, they have justified their actions regarding Keith’s demise through the lens of self-preservation. “I want it to not have happened,” Dory tells the group, and they agree to make that so. But in burying the truth of their crime, the stress and horror of it starts to manifest in ways they increasingly cannot control.
This is a story we’ve seen many times before, and entire series have been built on covering up murders. It’s the favored territory of dark comedies, which Search Party wholly becomes in this second season. And because of that, it’s not quite as interesting this time around. Still, Search Party’s investigation into not only the mental states of each of its leads but also the shallow culture they inhabit (which often hilariously enables their bad actions and rampant lies) makes the show deeper than others that have tackled this same narrative.
While there’s still plenty of humor in the second season, it too has taken on a different shade. And while the show’s first season had almost a New Wave-y feel to the way it told its story, Season 2 is much more typically plotted; it has to be, because it’s dealing with the fallout of a murder whose truth continues to spiral out of the grasp of its perpetrators who very suddenly have to grow up.
Season 2 also takes some of the focus off of Dory, and makes Drew an increasingly villainous figure determined to get himself out of this situation with no consideration towards anyone else. It’s a problem when unlikeable people commit heinous acts, because it lowers the stakes regarding their potential capture. Search Party isn’t quite there yet, but it’s getting perilously close. (Having said that, Early and Hagner remain delightful as Elliot and Portia, whose lovable idiocy saves them from being judged too harshly).
The show is at its best when it elevates mundane problems and mistakes into hugely dramatic moments, making the most of its cultural satire that mirrors our own worst self-interested impulses. There’s less of that this time around, and less too of the increasingly weird figure of Chantal, who could have (and may still) serve as the season’s primary adversary. But Search Party remains a weird gem for TBS, one that manages to be exceedingly clever and emotionally authentic all at once, with a tense story that begs to be binged. The problem is that in the aftermath of Dory’s search for meaning and Keith’s tragic end, it’s all gotten a little too real.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
Search Party Season 2 premieres with back-to-back episodes on TBS Sunday, November 19th.