Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Search Party returns in a new form, but with the same wit

Alia Shawkat
Alia Shawkat
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

So you wanna know the truth? Well, this is the truth.

“The Accused Woman”

Search Party is back—and, as in previous seasons, in a new form. Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ chameleonic series began its life as a black comedy, a parody of self-obsessed individuals (in this case, millennials, though self-involvement is hardly limited to any one generation). But by its finale, season one had successfully combined Dory’s (Alia Shawkat) search for meaning with neo-noir elements and trenchant humor about hipster culture. The second season, which premiered all the way back in 2017, took a turn for the Hitchcockian, sending Dory spiraling past existential despair into paranoid thriller territory. She and her friends—Drew (John Reynolds), Elliott (John Early), and Portia (Meredith Hagner)—were slowly forced to reckon with Keith’s (Ron Livingston) murder. They were at the whims of someone they felt didn’t merit their attention, but who actually had greater disdain for this ridiculous yet winning foursome than they could muster. The newly arrived third season is poised for a move into the courtroom drama and forensic analysis of series like American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson and The Staircase.

Advertisement

Season two ended with Dory eliminating their greatest source of conflict (that is, aside from their own shortcomings): April (Phoebe Tyers), Dory and Drew’s neighbor and the owner of a Talkgirl. After she sent April plummeting to her death in the icy waters of the Upper Bay, Dory was led out of Mary Ferguson’s (J. Smith-Cameron) campaign headquarters in handcuffs to answer for Keith’s murder. The season-three premiere, “The Accused Woman,” picks up just moments later, with Dory in the back of a squad car, her reflection fracturing in the window as her life makes yet another detour (although, if you’ve never really had a plan for your life, can you really say it’s taking a detour?).

Advertisement

The tension in this opening sequence is undercut by the nonsensical debate between the two cops over who has the biggest feet in the squad, and things become only more outlandish the longer the episode goes on before the fraught circumstances bring us back to reality. Dory’s scoff is captured as a smirk during her mugshot shoot (yeah, that’s going to come back to bite her), but when she finds herself seated next to an old high-school classmate (Hallie Haas as Mel Benina), she’s anything but cocky. Dory tries to play off her presence at the precinct, saying she “mishandled [her] ambition.” Mel is much more straightforward, telling Dory she broke the toilet in her boyfriend’s bar because he was one of two boyfriends? I am not certain I understand Mel’s actions, or if we’re meant to—in any case, it doesn’t really matter because her uncle is a judge who will have her out of there momentarily.

Dory, meanwhile, uses her one phone call to contact the one person whose phone number she’s memorized: her old boss Gail (Christine Taylor), who doesn’t know how to operate her Apple watch now that Dory’s no longer her personal assistant. And Gail, bless her, calls Drew as he’s debriefing with Elliott and Portia, who are all at varying levels of playing catch-up. Drew isn’t sure if Dory’s text about meeting at “midnight” refers to 12am this day or the next; Elliott wants to know who gave them up; and darling Portia thinks Dory’s message about paying off “the debt” was a reference to finally being rid of her student loans. Oh, how I’ve missed this daffy crew, who always find the time to say impressively absurd things and mock each other for those things, even when they’re staring down possible murder charges.

Advertisement

But we’re not there yet. Bliss and Rogers, who wrote and directed the premiere, briefly reconstruct the group’s dynamic—a slightly weary Drew, an oblivious Portia, a snide Elliott, and an increasingly remote Dory—just before shattering it again. They can’t go back, so Search Party won’t. The episode sits with Dory, who’s sitting with her guilt while trying to shake off a hallucination of April, who’s still very vindictive despite being waterlogged.

Once again, Dory holds the key to her own undoing: the cassette tape with the confessions. Well, actually, the tape has already been bagged along with Dory’s other belongings, and she takes desperate measures to get it back. Her sudden blows to her own face are enough to startle toilet-smashing Mel, but the determined glint, followed by the wild look in her eyes as she orders the cop around and chomps on the tape, is even more disconcerting. She mostly remains calm during her initial interrogation, but the mask slips again when she sees Drew in handcuffs—Drew who tried to flee to Shanghai again, because he’s the one who actually bludgeoned Keith.

Advertisement

“The Accused Woman” is a rousing start to the new season, though it remains to be seen how well the writers and creators handle the latest iteration of the show. But seeing Elliott, Drew, and Portia together again felt like being reunited with friends (whose flaws would make me feel a little better about my own, making me the Julian of the group), so some elements of the show remain as strong as ever.

Illustration for article titled iSearch Party /ireturns in a new form, but with the same wit
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)
Advertisement

“The Rookie Lawyer”

Whatever the bigger, season-spanning picture is (a twisted coming-of-age tale, an exercise in genre-jumping), the logical next step after a murder and a failed coverup is the day in court. Bliss and Rogers say they took inspiration from documentaries like Amanda Knox, in which the media frenzy in the wake of a horrific murder was almost as unsettling as the crime itself. “The Rookie Lawyer” places the show more firmly on that path. Written by Craig Rowin and directed by Bliss and Rogers, the second episode of the season is even more promising than the first, thanks in great part to new cast member Shalita Grant, who plays the instantly memorable Cassidy, the novice lawyer who comes to Dory’s defense. For a brief moment, some whimsy and comfort return to Dory’s life.

Advertisement

But first, she spends a day or so in jail, where her stray remark about Ladybird and the Oscar nomination process upsets an incarcerated woman in the TV room who doesn’t have formerly rich friends like Gail, who still has access to some of her rich friends and is able to bail Dory out. Gail’s friends are Tim and Margie, who want to help their daughter Cassidy launch her law career with a high-profile case like Dory’s. At first, Dory is shocked to learn that she’s already notorious, thanks to her “most epic, fabulous public arrest,” not to mention a mugshot that makes her look like the femme fatale she’s seemingly morphing into. A news segment at the top of the episode, which is being viewed by none other than Chantal, shows New Yorkers speculating as to Dory’s capacity for evil: One woman says she looks snotty and guilty, while a purported doctor offers the waterproof theory that “people with freckles are pretty tame and sensitive.”

Clearly, the frenzy is well underway, and federal prosecutor Polly Danzinger (Michaela Watkins) is happy to stoke it. She has an ax to grind, and millennials are going to get caught under it, despite the fact that scapegoating of that generation has waned a bit since the show first premiered in 2016. But Polly is meant to be out of touch, weighed down by a chip on her shoulder or some other grievance. She refuses to be seen as an individual in the workplace, rejecting “gifts or surprises or attention that I didn’t earn professionally.” When her employee Garrett (Jim Santangeli) tells her “Happy birthday,” Polly’s response is “Why?” She’s not exactly humorless, and she’s also not above attempting to capitalize on intergenerational conflict to make an example of Dory and Drew. “Guilty, guilty, guilty little frogs,” Polly mutters to herself, almost gleefully. And yes, they are, but it’s clear that Polly’s zeal is bolstered by more than the law.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled iSearch Party /ireturns in a new form, but with the same wit
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)

Search Party began as a satire, a send-up of self-centered mid-to-late twentysomethings unaware of their privilege. When you’re able to tailor your surroundings, be it a restaurant or an entire neighborhood, you always look like you’re right where belong, even if you’re actually aimless. That commentary has lessened somewhat over the course of the show’s run, April’s searing critique aside. Now Polly appears to be the embodiment of it, while also representing the Gen Xers who failed to make the world a better place. They didn’t set out to, exactly—there’s a reason why the labels “slacker” and “disaffected” were affixed to the generation along with the X—but people aged 39-55 head up a ton of large companies and hold other positions of leadership. It might not have been purity politics, but the fear (and threat) of “selling out” was just as immobilizing.

Advertisement

It’ll be interesting to see how much of a generational conflict actually factors into the show; even Cassidy remarks on it as she gives Dory a rundown of her legal strategy options. Cassidy describes Polly as being from a generation that didn’t see how feminism and femininity could co-exist—for Polly, empowerment means acting “like a man.” Of course, Cassidy says this while leaning hard into girlboss mode, which is another fascinating juxtaposition.

While Dory starts to weigh her options, Drew is bailed out by his family, who flew all the way from Chicago to complain about New York hotels and brag about how much Chicagoans tip. Surrounded by his nice, Midwestern family, Drew looks ready to come clean. His family’s faith in him and in the criminal justice system—“they don’t put innocent people in jail”—pushes Drew to the breaking point, and he whispers his admission to his father. But just then, Dory pops up on the news, doing her best Richard Nixon impression and telling the world she’s “completely innocent,” which is precisely what Cassidy told her not to do. Drew’s dad views Dory’s denial as a vindication of his son, but it’s just another instance of Dory speaking over Drew, pushing her own interpretation of the events.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled iSearch Party /ireturns in a new form, but with the same wit
Photo: Jon Pack (HBO Max)

Dory’s been shaping the narrative for some time now; at one point in season two, she conveniently forgot the detail about Tasing Keith while recounting what happened in Montreal. Early on, in season one, she lied, but at least it was in an admittedly misguided pursuit of Chantal. Starting in season two, she began to lie to support the older lies she’d told; now, she’s flat-out rewriting the story. Self-defense was a viable strategy—Cassidy even mentions that Keith put a tracking app in Dory’s phone. It might not have made it an open-and-shut case, but self-defense was a theory everyone would have backed, including Elliott and Portia, who ran away to the Hamptons and dyed their hair black before realizing that the “truth will set us free!” But, whether or not she actually buys it, Dory’s now declared her innocence, and by extension, Drew’s. This whole thing just got a whole lot messier.

Advertisement

One big question is answered in “The Rookie Lawyer”: Who ratted on the gang? When Portia asks Elijah if he told anyone, he says “Nobody,” which she takes literally. But Elijah actually considers his put-upon assistant Meg (Lisa Haas) “Nobody,” a receptacle he can just dump whatever information or requests into. While I’m slightly baffled that Meg was able to play it cool-ish in front of Portia after Dory’s arrest—she doesn’t seem at all concerned to see Portia at the theater—we now know it was no one in the core four. Technically, I was right about it being Portia, though, as the tip was based on the info she gave Elliott. But Gail was also briefly under suspicion: Dory unburdened herself to her unconscious boss in “Paralysis.” No reason to think Gail wouldn’t have blurted that out, or won’t suddenly remember it at some future point. As I said, this shit’s messy.

Stray observations

  • Welcome back to Search Party coverage! As I did in season one, I’ll be posting a double review every day through June 29. If you’ve watched ahead, please keep the comments sections of each double review spoiler-free. Can’t wait to read your theories!
  • Season three was filmed in 2018, and its forays into the criminal justice system already seem a little out of touch, given the push for abolition. But the way the white, mostly middle-to-upper-class, people navigate that system in this show also feels true to life: they have faith in these systems. Dory knows what game she’s playing, and Bliss and Rogers seem ready to explore how a pretty, young woman benefits from her white-passing privilege—to an extent. But the delay between seasons, no matter the reason, probably isn’t going to do the show any favors.
  • “You don’t even feel bad about that, do you?” “I had to do what I had to do.” This exchange between ghost April and Dory says so much about the latter’s frame of mind.
  • “God, I hope this wasn’t important.” Well, that depends on whether Dory was able to successfully destroy the tape.
  • Marc’s back, and as blissfully unaware of his surroundings as ever.
  • “We’re going to a place far, far away from here!” “Our own imaginations?” “To the Hamptons!” Meredith Hagner and John Early’s deliveries of these lines tie for best readings of this two-episode watch.
  • Bob Lunch, the defense attorney Drew’s dad is so excited about, was named “the best lawyer on the East Side of Chicago,” by the Chicago Tribune… in 1988. But hey, he’s probably a good tipper.
  • Between Shalita Grant and Louie Anderson (who plays Bob Lunch), I look forward to a Trial & Error-type story in the midst of the rest of the madness.
  • Does Dory’s shaved head in the opening scene reflect her condemned status, or is she recording some kind of manifesto in the future (er, present)?
Advertisement

Share This Story

Get our newsletter