Search Party was one of the few good things to come out of November 2016, premiering on TBS in a weeklong binge (and just in time for the holidays). The dark comedy, created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter, centers on a group of self-absorbed twentysomethings who, despite having very different careers, are all kind of drifting through their very fashionable lives in Brooklyn. Early on, these representatives of the much-maligned millennial generation failed to combat their peer group’s reputation, showing very little regard for others while complaining about ketchup at brunch. But as the first season unfolded, the clueless group, led by Dory (Alia Shawkat), became obsessed with finding an old classmate, Chantal (Clare McNulty).
The incredibly amateur sleuths somehow found the missing woman, who had taken the idea of a social media break far too seriously. But there were terrible consequences for Dory, Drew (John Reynolds), Portia (Meredith Hagner), and Elliott (John Early) at the end of the first season. They killed a man, and when the show returns November 19 to TBS, we’ll see how well they deal with the fallout and cover-up, especially with their journalist friend Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall) hot on their trail. The A.V. Club spoke with the cast and co-creator at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in July about what we can expect from season two, including its paranoid vibe and the friends’ guilty consciences, all of which become impossible to ignore even over multiple rounds of Bloody Marias.
AVC: What’s everyone’s mental state as things kick off this year?
Showalter: We leave our heroes in a pretty serious predicament at the end of the first season, and that kind of flips everything on its head. In season one, they were on the trail of what they thought was a nefarious crime involving Chantal, and trying to solve that crime. But in the second season, they are the perpetrators of a crime. And so, where in the first season they were hunting, in the second season they’re being hunted. Or are they?
AVC: Now that they have committed and/or covered up a murder, the group has greater reason to stay together—and fall part. Who’s most likely to crack under the pressure first?
Showalter: Well, that’s what the season’s about. That’s one of the things that we explore is, “How does something as traumatic as this, a secret as corrupting as what they’ve done affect different people?” Some people manifest the trauma in an external, physical way. Some people manifest it by being very much in denial about it. Some people, it weirdly empowers them, you know? So we’re playing with all the different ways that something like this could affect you and how you act on what you all share, which is a deep, dark secret. One of the fun things that’s happening is you have these four characters—Dory, Drew, Portia, and Elliott—but then you have a fifth character who is going to learn things. Or will he?
AVC: The first season was pretty dark, but how much further down that rabbit hole can we expect go?
Showalter: It gets darker, but it also, I think, is funnier. It’s more broadly comedic in the second season. But the themes and the Search Party universe is sort of those creepy-crawly things under every rock. There’s some really dark, fun things that our characters have to go through, and they explore the dark sides of themselves a lot. There’s another thing that happens in the first season that’s sort of the darkness that lurks within us and so, going back to that last episode [of season one], they’ve done something pretty intense. And once you’ve opened that door, it can be hard to close that door.
AVC: You previously said you guys [Showalter, Sarah-Violet Bliss, and Charles Rogers] had a three-season plan for the show. Is that still the case? And what does the bigger picture look like now that you’ve gone full Hitchcock in the new season?
Showalter: Well, there is kind of an arc to what was introduced in the first episode of the whole thing that semi-organically resolves in three seasons. But in my mind that in no way precludes—that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fourth, fifth, and sixth season in there. It’s just that there’s a world in which the Chantal chapter could semi-resolve in that way. But I personally have never felt like “We have three seasons, and then that’s it the story’s told.” I think with things like this you kind of do each thing and then you kind of see where you are. Once you start to get to know the characters and the world, there’s always the next thing to talk about if you’re given the opportunity.
AVC: How is Dory dealing with everything that happened at the end of the first season: her disillusionment over the Chantal non-mystery, the breakup with Drew, and Keith’s (Ron Livingston) murder?
Shawkat: I think she’s just trying to move forward as best she can. I think what the second season hopefully shows through all the choices we make is that at the end of the day, when you kind of avoid something—something like murder, or even just something like not calling somebody back—when you avoid something for so long, the rest of your life starts to kind of bubble up in a way that… it can’t grow. Nothing can be healthy. It feels like everything’s a reveal.
AVC: Dory’s kind of been the most introspective one of the group, so does that make it more difficult for her to keep up the lie?
Shawkat: Definitely. By not taking responsibility, the rest of her life kind of falls apart, and so I think she’s avoiding dealing with things, just like in the first season. She’s avoiding that this is real now. So then everything in her life is her trying to juggle [Keith’s murder] and capture things as they’re falling. And all it would take is to be honest with herself, but she’s still avoiding that—if anything, 10 times more now. She’s just trying to keep her friends together as much as possible, and throughout the show, it’s just proving to be a lot more difficult than she thought.
AVC: One of the funniest moments from season one involved Elliott being really picky about how to dress for a candlelight vigil. Does he have a new look for being on the run?
Early: He definitely does. The outfits turn up this year for practical reasons, which is all I will say.
Showalter: Sometimes you wear clothes to reveal things. Sometimes you wear clothes to cover things up.
Early: And sometimes it’s both.
Showalter: Or are they?
Early: But yeah, he really steps it up. He has to. I’m being very vague on purpose but, yeah. It’s also because tonally, this season has a paranoia, Hitchcock-y vibe.
AVC: Which of Hitchcock’s “cool blonds” would Elliott be?
Early: I think my costumes, really out of anyone, there’s something very Kim Novak-y, sort of a classic Hollywood star. It’s very cool.
AVC: At the end of the season-one finale, Portia is the only one of the main group who doesn’t know what just happened to Keith. She’s another character that was underestimated early on, so how long does it take her to put things together?
Hagner: Portia actually finds out pretty soon after.
AVC: So she doesn’t just turn around and head back out with the hot French-Canadian guy after safely delivering Chantal?
Hagner: She kind of does, yeah. Portia has, like, half an episode to be in the past, in this time of innocence, which was really fun. I was enjoying every second of it. Blissfully unaware, yeah.
Showalter: We decided that we wanted Portia to be—we talked about how long Portia and Julian would not know, and how to deal with that, and we felt like, after thinking of all the different versions of it, that we needed Portia to know. And so she finds out right away.
AVC: Now, I don’t want to compliment someone for covering up a murder, but Drew really surprised everyone by taking charge at the end of the first season. He’s had this great redemption arc, going from oblivious to the most level-headed.
Reynolds: He definitely had sort of a full emotional arc in the first season, and then he kind of was just falling down a well. And then he really hit rock-bottom, and then of course everybody else did join him.
AVC: Is he going to continue on that path in the second season? And how will that affect things with Dory?
Reynolds: I think for the second season, Drew is just going to compartmentalize and deal with what happened and try not to fall deeper down the well. At the same time, he still has a lot of emotional issues to deal with with Dory. So I think he’s sort of doing that same thing where he’s trying to shift through them without actually talking about them. His emotions and feelings and intentions are just things he doesn’t really want to examine.
AVC: Julian was really skeptical about Chantal’s disappearance when Dory first asked him for help. Considering he thought this was all in Dory’s head, how will Julian handle learning that his ex is a murderer?
Hall: If he finds out. I don’t know if he finds out or not.
AVC: So being a journalist doesn’t necessarily work to his advantage here?
Hall: I think Julian is going to pick around a good bit to try to find out what happened to Chantal. And from that he’s going to get a little bit more information on what’s happening within the group with the murder. He does get a little bit of information about what goes on, so in that way, yeah, he does find out something’s going on. But we won’t know until the second season premieres just how much he finds out.
AVC: I just imagine his response would stand the most in contrast because what we’ve seen is someone who’s much more mature and accomplished than everyone else. Not to knock Elliott’s now-defunct party-organizer career.
Shawkat: He probes. He’s a natural—Julian ends up being kind of a threat without knowing it, I feel like. He kind of was in the first season too, in some ways, just by being the guy searching for the truth. That makes him a threat to everybody, I feel.
Showalter: Julian is sort of an agent of chaos this year. He’s poking hornets’ nests without knowing it.
Hall: Or is he?
AVC: Well, speaking of learning things, is there something that your characters picked up in the first season that they apply going forward? And what do their individual journeys look like this year?
Shawkat: I think the whole first season was Dory trying to find identity and something outside of herself that gave her a meaning. And that last moment of the [finale] is her discovering what that is, and it’s really not good. So the second season is her kind of in denial about what she saw in the mirror at the end of that first one, you know? So I think it’s her continuously in denial but in a deeper, a lot more flailing kind of way, not as subtle, if that makes sense.
Hall: I think in the first season Julian, the fact that he’s so focused on telling the truth leads him in a bad direction. And in the second season, that direction of trying to get into their business and do his job sends him deeper and deeper into this journalistic mode. But he learns that that’s maybe not the direction he wants to go in, that what happens in that world is not what he expected.
Early: Elliott is someone who, in the first season, does some despicable things, but one of his strengths is that he’s kind of okay with that. He doesn’t waste any time lashing himself morally, you know. He just kind of accepts what he does and moves on, and this season he can only do that so much. And for the first time in his life, his actions actually start eating away at him. And so he’s actually confronted with the possibility of changing versus just being so defiantly self-assured.
Hagner: For Portia, she’s sort of blindly followed and accepted what her friends and other people around her are saying and doing. And so much of her arc now is about realizing that she’s autonomous and she actually can be. So now she is actually thinking in a judgmental way, occasionally even about her friends, and actually looking at what she’s done by just following them.
Reynolds: I feel like Drew is all about trying to keep his life together and have a classic kind of American lifestyle. And this season is him realizing that will never happen again, and him trying to deal with what that means for him and what he can physically and mentally do with himself.