Photo: TBS

“The Night Of One Hundred Candles”

Search Party’s on an upward trajectory going into its third and fourth episodes. The pilot was solid, if a little light on comedy. But the following installment, “The Woman Who Knew Too Much,” dialed up the absurdity while prodding the investigation along, shoring up viewer confidence that the writers can handle the mix of satire and mystery. The third episode is even tighter and smarter, more vicious and ludicrous. It’s an exemplary blend of intrigue and mockery, and will probably serve as an entry point for anyone not already watching. Unfortunately, what comes after leans so heavily on the mystery angle that it slows down the momentum a bit.

There are no real facts of the case yet, just questions: Is Chantal Witherbottom dead or otherwise imperiled, or is she just a runaway? Why has Dory seized upon this disappearance as if her own life depends on it? And why does it seem like she’s the only person in Brooklyn who cares? She isn’t, of course, but she could be, if her self-absorbed friends and boyfriend are any indication. But, indifference aside, they’re not exactly wrong. Dory is paying undue attention to Chantal’s disappearance, given that their only meaningful interaction was six years ago, and Dory’s only ascribed value to that encounter retroactively. Of course, even if Chantal is ”just” a runaway, it’s still a sad situation. But we haven’t been given much of a reason to care about the character. Like Dory and Lorraine, we’re experiencing this vicariously. We’re only interested because Dory’s interested, and she’s only on the hook because she needs something to take her mind off designer duds and lattes.

Screenshot: Search Party/TBS

But in “Night Of One Hundred Candles,” she heads further down the rabbit hole, or hollow oak, or haunted bridge, or whatever Nancy Drew book inspired the episode title. Because, as Drew so bitchily points out, the vigil isn’t even using real candles, just electric ones. (It’s too bad he doesn’t do vigils.) I’m not sure we could really trust any of these people, even the ones in Chappaqua, with so many open flames, though, so it’s probably for the best.

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Now, if he’s so unimpressed by the proceedings, why is Elliott even tagging along—in appropriate vigil attire, no less? (The withering look he gives Dory when he asks if she even knows how to dress for such an occasion is finger-kissing perfection.) We could ask that of everyone, including Dory, but in Elliott’s case, he’s just trying to get back the $20 he lent an acquaintance. Portia’s along for the ride because she had the perfect dress—a LBD, with plumage—as well as a recurring acting gig to rub in people’s faces. Drew probably thinks he’s being supportive, even though he basically wants to leave as soon as they arrive. But there might be more to that than just his discomfort at being around people who might already be mourners and not even know it. As Chantal’s verified friend Agnes teases, the missing woman held a torch for Drew. Because Drew always looks baffled, it’s difficult to tell if he’s actually registering surprise, or doing a bad job of faking it.

The Witherbottoms (Screenshot: Search Party/TBS)

The reveal does add another layer to the mystery, not to mention a possible suspect. This is good news for followers of that particular angle, but the show wisely decides to focus on the subjects of its ongoing send-up. Despite the harmonies, Choral Perfection’s performance of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” is a tone-deaf selection. Elliott’s repeated “no’s” and head shakes punctuate every suddenly awkward line about gratitude over someone exiting your life. When even the guy whose only reason for attendance is money and vanity—he’s Portia’s accomplishment accomplice—thinks you’ve crossed a line, you might want to rethink your a cappella set list.

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Their earnest gesture is accompanied by one just as cringe-inducing, as the Witherbottoms are asked to announce the pertinent Twitter campaigns. Because what’s a vigil, or any kind of social gathering, without hashtags? In addition to being preposterous, though, the #IAmChantal one feels like a nod to Dory’s growing obsession. If only she could so easily assume someone else’s life. She does give that a shot when she’s in what she thinks is Chantal’s room, where directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers make sure to frame Dory’s reflection in a full-length mirror as she tries on one of Chantal’s sweaters. It’s actually her sister’s room and sweater, though. It doesn’t pan out the way she expected, but it’s still an important development—Dory’s fixation is leading her to do increasingly questionable things.

Screenshot: Search Party/TBS

Things don’t get much more appropriate from there. Julian is, conveniently enough, on hand to point out how shaky the logic is behind their attendance, including his own. But he was dragged there by Gabe, another one of Chantal’s real friends, like Agnes. (Did you know she works with apes?) Dory doesn’t really take in anything he says, or what Elliott, Portia, and Drew ask her to do, which is to just get the hell out of there. But Dory thinks she can provide some solace to the grieving mother, who’s so doped on prescription meds that she initially doesn’t process what Dory’s telling her. When she realizes it, though, she freaks out the way most people would when told that the child they’ve been weeping over has been hanging around in restaurants they don’t even like.

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When Chantal’s future brother-in-law rushes over to shoo Dory away, he becomes another suspect. After all, he did use the wrong tense when talking about Chantal earlier. That was enough to make up Elliott’s mind, even though it had previously been set on Drew (not really). Or maybe it was her pervy employer Chuck, played by William Ragsdale of Herman’s Head (relative) fame. He’s a married man who hits on young women at vigils, which would be enough to raise questions. But Chantal’s loved ones seem to think her ex Gavin is to blame. With his patchy beard and slouching posture, he certainly looks the part.

The suspect pool is widening, but we still don’t know what crime, if any, has been committed. So far, it’s just social gaffes, many of them Dory’s. But through those continual faux pas, Search Party mercilessly skewers its navel-gazing targets. Portia doesn’t see a vigil, she sees an audience; Elliott, though he was right about that song, is only interested when things get seamy; and Drew (and, to a lesser extent, Dory) is still curating his nice-guy image. Even the people we haven’t spent much time with aren’t presented in a much more flattering light—it’s completely lost on Agnes that Jane Goodall might not be someone she can add on LinkedIn. Though the mystery affords plenty of opportunities for missteps, the satire remains the most compelling element, and it thankfully makes up most of the episode. But for those following along at home, another clue: a sonogram, tucked away in a music box, along with photos of Gavin and Chantal.

The Captive Dinner Guest

Despite making a really bad impression on the parents of the girl she’s trying to rescue, Dory’s just emboldened by her discovery in the Witherbottom home. So she ropes in Drew and Portia to help her massage the truth out of Gavin, whom she’s invited over for dinner. Yes, even after Drew told her about Gavin’s “good form” and masturbation comments. Though it’s not yet reflected on the surface—she wears the perfect dinner party frock to her dinner party—she’s coming unhinged. Drama takes the stage here, to the show’s detriment. Dory’s unraveling isn’t boring; it’s just that “Dinner Guest” is too wide a swing from the biting comedy of the previous episode. It feels like a one-act play, centering as it does on Dory and Drew’s apartment, where Gavin and Portia have been invited to dine one of Drew’s mother’s recipes (she apparently makes a mean spaghetti sauce). Maybe it’s the absence of Elliott, who’s off doing charity work this episode. Without him, the occasional insight has to come from Drew, who’s really not having fun anymore.

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But if we’re going to spend half an hour with anyone, it might as well be Alia Shawkat. It’s not a completely solo affair, but Shawkat anchors the episode, though she teeters between “domestic” and “deranged” throughout. Her attempts to squeeze Gavin for info are laughable, but she’s fully committed—methodical, even. She stocks up on wine and makes sure to include Portia, whose resemblance to Chantal isn’t lost on anyone. When Portia tries to wriggle out of the dinner, Dory manipulates her so expertly that Portia probably feels it was her idea all along. Dory might not have as impressive a résumé as her friends or partner, but she’s far from helpless. Maybe, in her near-paralyzed state of questioning, she’s actually more self-aware than any of her companions, who might just be acting out their impressions of somewhat successful people. That’s almost certainly the case, but unfortunately, Dory doesn’t know that. Or maybe she does—the way she fires back at Elliott’s snark in “One Hundred Candles” suggests she has more of a spine in place than is apparent.

We see more of that confidence (or maybe mania) here, as Dory executes a plan that Drew meekly resists at every turn, even though Portia’s the one who’s really in danger. You can’t really blame the guy for feeling that way—Gavin is super creepy, and is the kind of guy who scoffs at vanilla porn tastes. But if Drew knows that, then why go along with the ruse that potentially endangers Portia? He seems more interested in being the guy who said “I told you so” once disaster’s struck rather than actively trying to prevent it. Although it’s perfectly reasonable that he’d start to withdraw some of his support after Dory invited over someone who’s basically a complete (and unsettling) stranger, he isn’t prepared to go so far as to kick that creep out of his house. He’d rather throw a milkshake at his back.

But what can we really expect from Drew, or Portia, or Elliot, for that matter? They all take turns humoring each other and reinforcing the walls of their bubble. Is that what Dory’s trying to break out of? She’s benefitted from the dynamic almost as much as they have, but it doesn’t look like she wants to bob along in that stream anymore. She’s not ready for a real epiphany about her aimlessness, though, which is why she’s entangled herself in Chantal’s situation; it’s to feel a little less unmoored. Again, she still doesn’t understand quite what she’s stumbled onto. Her working theory was that Gavin had done something to Chantal because of an unplanned pregnancy. And yet, as despicable that sounds, she doesn’t go to the police with what’s a real clue. She doesn’t even ask the investigative journalist she knows (hi, Julian) for help. Instead, she takes matters and plates into her own hands and tries to pry Gavin’s lips open with food, wine, and—though I hope not—Portia. That’s because she can’t brag about nabbing the guy if she’s only tangentially involved in his capture; she has to be caught in the act, too. It seems Dory might also be hung up on appearing to do good, rather than doing it.

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Ultimately, her hypocrisy isn’t much of a revelation, because it’s been there from the moment she inserted herself into the narrative. Dory’s still more a groupie than a detective, as she demonstrates by getting drunk in the middle of her supposed interrogation, which leads her to overplaying her hand. She may end up with Gavin’s emails to Chantal, but she almost gives the whole thing away by forwarding them to Drew, who doesn’t put his phone on vibrate like everyone else (it’s his home, though, so whatever). When she returns Gavin’s phone, it’s not to the same spot where she grabbed it, and he figures out what’s going on. He does admit to being cheated on by Chantal, thereby dropping another breadcrumb for Dory and viewers. Just wait until she figures out that the guy in the baseball cap isn’t Ron Livingston, it’s a private eye (who’s played by Ron Livingston).

Though “Dinner Guest” had a lot of tension, it completely dropped the comedy thread. I’m not even sure the latest entry work works that well as a standalone episode—the momentum stalls out, even though Gavin literally and figuratively spills his guts. This isn’t always going to be laugh fest, I know, but whatever ground was gained in the mystery cost the satire some of its bite. It was far from a bitter pill to swallow, but I’m looking forward to the palate cleanser I think is in store.

Stray observations

  • I guess I can see how Drew might be involved in Chantal’s intentional-or-not disappearance. He seems moodier than before, though that could just be the result of Dory’s zany schemes.
  • Speaking of which—as heavy as “Dinner Guest” got, there was a real I Love Lucy feel to the goings-on.
  • Portia proudly describing her character as a “frisky rookie cop with super-sensitive hearing” makes me laugh every time I see it.
  • I’m starting to think Drew is the straight man on this show, not Dory—the way he corrects Elliott’s description of his encounter with Julian (who is not interested in writing a profile on him) is almost reflexive.
  • My apologies to Griffin Newman for the abundance of creep references herein. He was great in The Tick pilot, and you can also catch him with his Search Party co-star John Reynolds on Thanksgiving.
  • “The girl with the hair” is a phrase used to describe Dory that could also easily describe Chantal.
  • Dory’s boss is Gail, who is just lonely enough to want an invitation to a vigil. Dory and Drew don’t bite, though.
  • “I got penetrated last night.” I wonder why Elliott only shared that with Drew.
  • Upon closer inspection, Portia wears a crop top to the vigil. I think.

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