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Millennials, not mysteries, are unraveling on Search Party

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“I literally have less than I did before I found Chantal.”


The first season of Search Party was many things—a comedy of manners, a satire of the self-obsessed, an early Christmas present—and often all at once. It was a quest for meaning couched in the pursuit of wrongdoers and a not-so-innocent woman. Viewers knew the odds were against Dory’s search reaching a satisfying conclusion, but that didn’t make it any less engrossing or amusing.


And the lack of mystery doesn’t mean there aren’t real consequences to the gang’s trip to Montreal. Just as important, the absence of a whodunnit—as well as the why, and what exactly is “it”?—hasn’t really diminished the fun of Search Party in its second season. Everyone is a little more informed and maybe even proactive (Dory accomplished something, even if it unintentionally led to murder), but they’re not much better equipped to deal with a cover-up than they were some amateur sleuthing. The first two new episodes were rife with the kind of mistakes that anyone who’s listened to enough true-crime podcasts or even just watched a lot of procedurals would be careful to avoid. But just as the mystery wasn’t really the point of the first season, getting away with murder isn’t the focus of the new episodes, certainly not “Paralysis.” Their comeuppance is almost certainly on the way, but it can wait, at least until Elliott has lost a little more hair, Portia learns a little more about the Manson family, and we get a little more face time with Judy Reyes as Keith’s ex-wife Deb (that’s not until next episode, but you get the point).

Anyway, it’s not as if the casualties weren’t already piling up long before interior design award met private investigator’s skull. Dory left her job, which, despite being the definition of unfulfilling (not that I would mind hanging out with Christine Taylor all day), was still her only source of income. Creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers made it very clear that she was suited to little else at the time—I’ll never forget Gail’s [slightly paraphrasing here] “You’re so good at the things no one else wants to do” backhanded compliment—so it’s unlikely she’ll snap up anything else any time soon. This was part of the process of Dory’s life gradually becoming undone while thinking she was in the middle of saving someone else’s, which is something she’ll have to reckon with this season, especially with Chantal and Drew hooking up over a mutual disdain for her.


Dory’s obsession, which led her to have sex with Keith, slowly cut her tenuous ties to Drew. And the one-time couple couldn’t be further apart in “Paralysis,” but Drew is intent on putting even more distance between them. As he wonders to his co-workers if China has an extradition treaty, it’s clear Drew is planning his escape—to Shanghai, where he doesn’t speak the language, even if he remembers the phrase Alan Yang (who is fluent in Mandarin, as Max reminds him) translated in the men’s room. It is not a terrible idea, but neither is it all that well thought out, a tendency that virtually everyone displays this episode. See Dory, whose need to unburden herself is just heightened after her brunch with Elliott and Portia, who admit to being medicated but also insist that they’ve never been better. So she confesses to her semi-conscious former boss. It’s just another misstep in her life, but she’s obviously desperate to talk to someone, especially after being spurned by Drew. We’ll see how much of that chat Gail remembers. Then again, she also thinks she and Dory are “single women in their late 40s,” so she might not make the best state’s witness.

Despite the obvious inevitability of their mistakes, writers Jordan Firstman (who appeared in the first season) and Starlee Kine (who hosted the Mystery Show podcast) wring a lot of tension out of everyone’s circumstances. The disturbing context of Portia’s audition and Elliott’s surprising inability to play off his hair loss are juxtaposed with Dory’s near-breakdown in the middle of Central Park, which is synced up with Drew and Chantal’s hook-up. There’s some catharsis for Drew there, but none for Dory, who might be able to confess to a drugged Gail, but can’t get any absolution from her. It could be a mess, but under Bliss and Rogers’ direction, the multiple storylines and reactions in “Paralysis” form a multi-pronged approach to dealing with an unsettling reality from people who have lived their lives in denial.


I feel “Paralysis” is the stronger of tonight’s offerings, because it’s much more in the multi-genre spirit of Search Party. Episode three has frequent and deft switches of tone, as well as some killer lines, plus Elliott and Portia (and by extension, Early and Hagner) looking even more like a pair of grown-up Bobbsey Twins who currently view Chantal’s “rescue” in very different lights. As poignant as Alia Shawkat is, especially at the end, John Early and Meredith Hagner continue to make off with spotlight. Dory remains the linchpin, but she’s not the only one buckling under pressure. Everyone has their own way of handling murder and conspiracy, and the reality is that some are just funnier than others.


This doesn’t mean I care any less about what happens to Dory, but her story has become a bit more straightforward than the others, give or take a murder. She’s now deep in thriller territory in “Suspicion,” as she writes emails on behalf of the man she helped kill after running into his ex-wife (hello, Judy Reyes!). Shawkat’s performance perfectly captures Dory’s inner turmoil, which is equally made up of guilt and dissembling. She’s not just trying to throw Deb and Deb’s friend (Jessica Chaffin, who does “rough-hewn” as well as she does “congresswoman”) off her scent when she sits down with them. As she leaves the defunct Keith a voicemail about changing her mind, she veers from Deb’s script a bit and indulges in another bit of confession. It underscores just how poorly Dory & co. cover their tracks, which just brings to mind the excellent job they’ve all done up (until this point) of telling themselves they were on the right track. Dory may have been the first to realize just how unsatisfying and inauthentic her life was, but now that everyone’s with the program, they’re all coming undone.


Elliott, whom we probably all took for the person best qualified to weave this web of lies, is second only to Dory in painful manifestations of their secret. Where she cried out and collapsed in front of a group of strangers, his hair loss has been followed by a full-body rash, which is accompanied by another set of lies to Marc (Jeffrey Self), this time about gay conversion therapy (“But your parents are so liberal!”). None of this bodes well for his book, which he struggles to write, even though there’s clearly an eager audience for it. But while he claims to want to “give a voice to the many complicated liars out there,” he also seems daunted by the opportunity to come clean, even if it’s about something other than the murder. Opening up in any way could be a slippery slope for Elliott, who’s having a hard time as it is.

There’s the added complication of Julian, who is once again trying to expose someone in their midst. He’s moved on from revealing Elliott’s cancer gambit to covering Chantal’s disappearance. She of course plays right into the reporter’s hands, cheerfully identifying herself on the interview recording thusly: “My name is Chantal Witherbottom, and I went missing.” It’s as if she thinks she’s already envisioning the Serial-like podcast about her “ordeal.” This is a real fish-in-the-barrel situation for Julian, who’s not above using his charms to win a subject over—see he feeds Chantal the same “it would be a cool excuse to hang out” line he tried to give Dory. I’m eager to see more of Julian this season, as I suspect he’s more than just a foil to his oblivious peers. Brandon Micheal Hall mostly plays him straight, but there’s also the sense that Julian, while not exactly hiding something, is interested in more than just dispelling the myths of their lives.


“Suspicion” throws up a couple of roadblocks in the form of Julian and Deb, but it otherwise stays the course, propelling the action forward from burial to attempts at reintegration and, in the final moments, another startling revelation. It also plants us firmly in a thriller, the pending discovery of Keith’s body putting their recent mistakes in sharp relief, especially Dory’s email to his family, which will quickly be revealed to have been sent well after his death. (Unless it only took a day for Elliott to lose all that hair and sprout all those splotches.) So far, Search Party has proven it can handle a quick jaunt there, but whether the bulk of the season can sit comfortably in suspense is a mystery at the moment.


Stray observations

  • “They’re my all-time favorite murders!” “That being said, she has a good heart.” Meredith Hagner puts such a great spin on lines that could just be ditzy or digs.
  • The ceramic Titanic model in Drew (and formerly Dory’s) home is now split up, in case you were looking for hints from knick-knacks as to their emotional status.
  • Under Bliss and Rogers’ direction, New York always looks as vibrant as it does foreboding, which is exactly how that city should appear to twentysomethings.
  • Jay Duplass as a smarmy director is spot-on.
  • These people fall ass-backwards into cults, and yet I’ve never knowingly met a real-life Scientologist.
  • Loved Judy Reyes as Quiet Ann on Claws recently (and other things in general), so I’m looking forward to seeing her join this dopey bunch.
  • How many John Early as Elliott gifs have you already deployed?
  • I want virtually everything Dory and Portia wear, as well as several Elliott outfits.
  • For a second there at the end of “Suspicion,” I thought that was Dan Harmon in the woods.
  • Here’s the closing track for “Suspicion”—Vow’s “Tender.”