HBO Max’s hipster murder mystery comedy, Search Party, is gearing up to drop its years-in-the-waiting third season this month and because the hiatus has been decades – or just two and a half years but really, what even is time? – we figured fans (and newcomers) might need a quick catch up before the trial of the century begins.
The genre-bending show is a darkly comedic take on the restlessness and emptiness of an entire generation wrapped in a deliciously twisted true-crime saga. Alia Shawkat, John Early, Meredith Hagner, and John Reynolds play a group of millennial Brooklynites caught up in a tragedy of their own making, and each season has followed the group as they try to spin and manipulate and wiggle their way out of the consequences of their shared morally bankrupt existence.
Things look to come to a head in season three with Dory (Shawkat) and ex-boyfriend Drew (Reynolds) facing murder charges with their friends Elliott (Early) and Portia (Hagner) being forced to chose sides.
Now that opening statements are out of the way, let’s get to the facts of why this cult comedy series needs to be your next binge-watch.
Each season of Search Party leans into a different genre. Season one took on a murder mystery vibe with Dory and her friends trying to find Chantal Witherbottom. Dory satisfied her true crime itch but at a pretty steep price – she ended up participating in the murder of a legitimate private eye named Keith (Ron Livingston), who she also happened to be hooking up with because … searching for missing girls is her specific kink? We really don’t know.
Season two switched gears as Dory enlisted Elliott, Portia, and Drew’s help in hiding Keith’s body and covering their tracks. Unfortunately, someone got wind of their murderous indiscretion and the story took on a thriller-type tone, with the crew desperately trying to figure out who was blackmailing them.
This leads us to the show’s long-awaited third season – a courtroom drama on psychedelic steroids. Dory and Drew are being tried for Keith’s murder – Drew knocked him a little too hard with a decorative statue after he believed Keith was attacking her. Turns out, Keith probably just wanted to chat about the reward money for finding Chantal but Dory panicked, tased him, and accidentally engineered his death. Instead of just calling the police, Dory, Drew, and Elliott decided that risking Canadian prison was just too terrifying a prospect, so they bought the gaudiest zebra-striped luggage carrier they could find and stuffed Keith’s decaying corpse inside, while Portia, Chantal, and a grumpy Frenchman were getting high in the living room and playing “Johnny Whoops.” (“Johnny Whoops” is, sadly, not some weird sex game.)
Portia was eventually dragged into the mess (proving FOMO really can destroy your life0, helping to bury the body and come up with a false narrative to explain Chantal’s whereabouts. So, though Drew and Dory are on trial for murder here, the whole group is held under a microscope and the cracks begin to show in season three as Dory tries to convince a jury, the public, and herself, that she had nothing to do with Keith’s death.
Think of a modern-day Scooby Gang. Now kill Scooby and make everyone else in the group vapid, incompetent, and narcissistic and you’ll come close to understanding the dynamics of the core cast on Search Party. Dory is the de-facto ring leader – a bright college grad who’s unfulfilled with her life as an assistant to a rich divorcee. She goes searching for Chantal – a fellow coed she met literally once before the tragedy – partly because in finding Chantal, she hopes she’ll find herself, or at least find something she’s actually good at.
Dory’s stuck and her relationship with long-term boyfriend Drew doesn’t help things. Drew’s a doormat. He goes to business school. He owns a ukelele and plays it, unironically. Really, there’s not much more to say about him except that he constantly seems to resent Dory’s friend group, and he at least attempts to do the right thing. He’s quickly talked out of it though, which is why he’s now an accused murderer.
Elliott and Portia round out the main crew. Both are equally shallow, fame-obsessed millennials but they share a strange bond with Dory, helping her to hide a body despite the probable repercussions. Portia is an aspiring actress with mommy issues who can’t seem to live up to her family’s expectations or impress them with recurring gigs on crime soap operas. Elliott is a wannabe influencer who once lied about surviving Stage IV lymphoma and nearly scored a book deal because of the ruse. He convinced both Dory and Drew to hide Keith’s body in season two because the optics – a man killing the guy banging his girlfriend with a blow to the back of the head – didn’t look good. Fair enough. He’s also set to be married as the trial heats up so, you know, that’s annoying.
Drew, Portia, and Elliott are fairly tame in terms of their criminal exploits. Being a pathological liar isn’t illegal so, while Elliott may be a terrible person for trying to profit off his fake cancer scare, he’s never committed a felony until he helps Dory jigsaw puzzle a body in a carry-on. He and Portia scheme with Dory and Drew to take down their blackmailer in season two, but again, they stay mostly on the sidelines when it comes to the hardcore action.
It’s Drew and Dory who do most of the misbehaving in season two and beyond – breaking into their neighbor’s apartment, attempting to blackmail politicians and shoving mentally unwell women off the Brooklyn ferry. No, really. Dory ends season two by killing another person caught in her web – her next-door neighbor April, who claimed to have a taped confession and threatened to go to the police with it if Dory didn’t give her $500,000. Thin walls. They’ll ruin even the best murder coverups.
To keep April quiet, Dory meets with her on the ferry where, in a fit of rage, she pushes her to her assumed death. It’s not the murder she’s on trial for. But it is murder. So …
The New Players
One of Search Party’s greatest strengths is its constantly-surprising rotating list of guest actors. That track record continues in season three with Louie Anderson, Michaela Watkins, and Shalita Grant joining the show for a legal showdown that’s fairly ridiculous. Anderson plays Drew’s crusty old defense attorney who comes out of retirement to take on his case and enjoys a good nap wherever he can get it. Watkins plays the District Attorney prosecuting Dory and Drew and doggedly trying to prove what kind of terrible people they are to a public increasingly fascinated by the twists and turns in the case.
But it’s Shalita Grant, who plays Dory’s lawyer – a relatively untested courtroom rookie who scores the job because her wealthy father posts Dory’s bail – who steals the season playing an equally clueless millennial with a different perspective on the case.