When Search Party’s third season lands on HBO Max this month, it will have accomplished a feat few shows have before. Call it a comeback, or a rebirth, or a relocation – the show originated on TBS before moving to the newly-minted streaming platform – it really doesn’t matter, not to fans, or to creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers. Because, for all intents and purposes, Search Party died. And now, it’s come back to life.
It took two and a half years, but we’re finally going to learn what happened after Dory (Alia Shawkat) and her friends killed a guy and tried to bury the evidence — literally, by stuffing him in a chic carry-on and hiding it in the woods of Canada, and figuratively, by spending another season thwarting police investigators and would-be blackmailers while trying to cling to their sanity.
For Bliss and Rogers, holding this group of out-of-touch Brooklynites accountable for their crimes meant a chance to explore each character’s darker side, which is what happens in season three as Dory and ex-boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) go on trial while Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner) are forced to choose teams. There are new players, old enemies, a fabulously gay wedding, and a brush or two with death in between plus plenty of the twisted humor the show has become known for. We spoke with Bliss and Rogers about the long wait for season three, tapping into the cultural zeitgeist with certain storylines, and exploring even darker comedy this time around.
We’ve made it to season three. It almost feels like we cheated death.
Charles Rogers: I think we did die, but now we’re back.
Every season of the show explores a different genre. Why did you want to tackle a courtroom drama this season?
Sarah-Violet Bliss: It’s just kind of naturally progressed. As the show has been evolving, a courtroom drama had been spoken about, and we had thought that that would actually be kind of later down the line, but it just ended up making more sense as the third season was coming together.
Did you watch any true-crime series while writing this season?
SVB: Yes. We watched a lot of true crime. The Staircase was something that we watched. I watched a lot of Dateline, a lot of SVU as well, People v OJ Simpson. John Grisham, that’s a big reference for us like The Client and Amanda Knox.
There’s more dark humor this time around. How do you balance the comedy and the drama so both feel equally important?
CR: It feels like the first stages of figuring out the plot just feel so deeply unfunny because it’s just about the drama and the turns. And it’s just like, “Oh gosh, I hope this is funny.” And then we started like twisting everything a little bit, so that it’s maybe the less expected choice or something strange or the version you haven’t seen before. So with all of the themes around the courtroom stuff, we really wanted to satirize the ways in which the country is so divided right now and how people will see the same thing or the same person and have completely different perspectives on it. Everyone’s projecting their own stuff onto everything. So that was like the “Laurel/Yanny,” “Blue or Gold dress” moment was… when we thought about it in the writer’s room it was like, “Oh, that’s a very simple and fun way of just being really specific about this whole cultural moment.”
The story becomes about a detached person who lies more and more. We wanted that to be a big theme in the show, about believing lies, whether they’re your own or they’re coming from authority figures.
This season really explores Dory’s dark side. Why did you choose that character to push to the extreme?
SVB: She’s the one who ultimately had to make a decision to commit murder and can’t live with that part of herself that was able to do that. What does it mean? Does that mean that she’s a bad person? And how do you live with yourself if you are capable of doing such dark things? How does denial come into play?
Everyone struggles this season, especially when they start getting famous because of the case. How does that spotlight affect the group’s ties?
CR: Yeah, this season, the friends are all becoming famous in their own ways. There’s a side to that, that’s a little bit more comedic, like with Elliot’s wedding or all the sort of expected ways in which they would all play that up. But the thing that we thought would be the most interesting is finding out that Dory has a secret taste for fame and how that really says a lot about her kind of covert narcissism.
When we were writing the second season, it was really tricky to figure out like, “Okay, so if that was what the first season was — Dory wanted to believe this big fantasy about Chantal, but none of it was true — and it was kind of like this, like Wizard Of Oz, an earth-shattering moment for her then, what do we want to keep saying about her relationship to her inner fantasy life?” She’s kind of always on a journey of unpacking her shadow side. She wants everyone to think that she’s innocent and good, but she can’t help but love the spotlight and love the notoriety. That’s kind of at odds with how she wants to portray herself and so she just becomes more and more divided as a person.
There are plenty of different ways you could read between the lines of this show and this season in particular, but is there a lesson in Dory’s downfall?
CR: I think what we’ve unintentionally been trying to say is to not be afraid to know yourself, and I’d love to be like really fancy with that and act like it was all a big plan, but on some unconscious level, I think that we’ve been exploring the depth of Dory’s psyche and how far she’ll go and the extremes within her. In a strange kind of perverse way her whole journey is like a journey of self-realization and that there’s a lot of dark pitfalls and scary places you go through when you really examine yourself.
Obviously you can’t help the timing of the show, but do you think it will hit different for people watching now?
CR: It’s interesting. I think that as far as the quarantine part goes, season one in a strange way maybe speaks to that vibe the most. But then, the Black Lives Matter movement is also in play right now. The intensity of this social movement and the climate right now is so pronounced. Even though we made season three in 2018, there’s a lot of thematic overlap with the justice system and privilege. And so that is almost the thing that takes more of the spotlight in terms of wondering how people absorb the show. We have had no control over how the show’s moved from TBS to HBO Max and then been withheld and all these things so I think we just kind of feel like spectators to how it will be absorbed really right now.
‘Search Party’s third season lands over at HBO Max on June 25.