Search Party Season 3 (HBO Max)
Written by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, Craig Rowin, Andrew Pierce Fleming & Matt Kriete, Starlee Kine, Jordan Firstman, and Sabrina Jalees
Directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, Jay Duplass, and Carrie Brownstein
Search Party feels like a tv series than an indie film franchise with each season’s supporting cast changing to fit the direction of our four millennial mains’ lives. The stakes of the series have ratcheted up with each iteration. Season one was a reasonably light, missing person mystery that ended on a surprisingly dark note. Season two was a study in PTSD and guilt, veering the series into some bleak territory while still finding humor in the situation. Now season three gives us courtroom drama and such a massive development in our protagonist’s persona that it is downright chilling in moments.
Dory (Alia Shawkat) has been arrested for murder, and right behind her is Drew (John Livingston). Before you know, everything is out on the table about what went down at the end of season one. Dory requires a lawyer, a district attorney is preparing to tear her apart, and the media speculates about Dory’s guilt or innocence. Filling out the background of this season are Drew’s changing view of what kind of person Dory has become, Portia (Meredith Hagner) dealing with the loss of her friend group by clinging to a trio of young Christians, and Elliot (John Early).
The courtroom plot naturally takes up the bulk of this season and is masterfully woven with both drama and some hilarious comedy. SNL alum Michaela Watkins plays Polly Danzinger, the district attorney out to nail Dory in this high profile case. Watkins can bring out the manic, unprofessionalism of Danzinger so beautifully. There’s a press conference she rushes to have to announce the federal charges against Dory, which is interrupted by news that evidence has been uncovered that throws a wrench in the case. Unlike real-life DAs, we see the inner thoughts expressed as a tirade that her smoothly rolled out event was ruined.
On the defense side, we have Louie Anderson as Bob, Drew’s lawyer, a veteran attorney from Chicago whose done this for so long the first thing he asks when visiting Drew and Dory’s apartment is if he could rest his eyes for a minute. That leads to him passing out cold on their couch. For the rest of the trial, that appears to be the level of energy he can muster up. Yet, he still defends his clients even in an incredibly lethargic and passive manner. Dory’s defense comes in Cassidy (Shalita Grant), a young lawyer who has never tried a case before but whose wealthy parents bail Dory out on the condition that she pick their daughter to defend her. Grant can walk that same comedic line as Anderson, being a larger than life comedic character and still a somewhat competent & cunning lawyer.
I think one of the downfalls of the season is how John Early is wasted, and the momentum of his character feels lost midway through the episodes. There are still some fantastic moments for his habitual liar Elliott throughout the season, he even gets a giant millennial gay wedding that is my favorite entry of the batch. But some strange sidesteps don’t go anywhere and then seem left to be dealt with next season. There’s a subplot that has Elliott being asked to appear on a Fox News style show, which becomes a shouting match between him and the Aryan blonde anchoress. By the end of the season, they set up his transition to becoming a token gay political pundit on this conservative network. That could turn out to be very funny, but within the context of these episodes, what we get is not great.
Search Party always seems to find a sharp new angle to take with each season, and it looks like the fourth will drop us into another genre mix. What was most shocking to me this season was the beautifully subtle way Dory transformed. She is verging on the edge of sociopathy at this point but also tormented by specters of her now two victims. However, it’s not guilt Dory feels as seen clearly in the last couple of episodes. Instead, she afraid of being caught, of having to face the consequences of the things she’s done to stay out of trouble. A new character dropped into this season who will have a tremendous impact in the fourth for sure. I am very curious if this person will become another victim to Dory’s relentless ability to kill to survive, or we will see a new wrinkle in the story. I highly recommend all three seasons of this series, it’s unlike any other comedy out there at the moment.