‘We were all involved. We all moved the body. And I guess that’s like a felony or whatever.”
It’s tough to pick any one ‘best’ show of any one year, but TBS’ Thanksgiving feast Search Party, released all in one day for easy binging, was easily the most pleasant surprise of 2016. Over ten tightly plotted, superbly written, perfectly acted episodes, Search Party performed a truly impressive high-wire act, balancing the totally disparate tones of dry comedy and suspense thriller through the story of Dory (Alia Shawkat, Arrested Development), whose post-graduate Brooklyn ennui finds a focus when she runs across a missing person poster for a college acquaintance she barely knew and none of her friends really liked. Dory takes up the cause, starts asking around, and pretty soon has embroiled her milquetoast boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), her perfectly put-together actress friend Portia (Meredith Hagner), and impossibly narcissistic cancer survivor Elliott (John Early) in the search. Despite the fact that none of them really cares (“She sucked,” Elliott volunteers when Dory asks the group if they remember Chantal), they all get swept up into the mystery, which takes them on an adventure that is by turns scary, confusing, ominous, and screamingly funny.
If you watched the first season, you already know that the finale was enormously satisfying, made total organic sense, and also just happened to be one of the funniest things on television all year. If you didn’t watch it, I envy you the experience you will soon have, assuming you take my advice and watch it as soon as possible, so that you can ready yourself for season 2.
Season 1 was an extremely difficult act to follow, to the point that a lot of online commenters believed the show should end right there, rather than retroactively ruin it with weaker outings in subsequent seasons (looking at you, Homeland). After watching the first three episodes of the new season, I am pleased to report that the show is as strong as it was in season 1, maybe even stronger, thanks to the depth of the performances by the four leads.
— Season 1 spoilers follow. —
After tracking Chantal to Montreal, where she turned out to be in no danger at all other than suffering a low-grade existential crisis not unlike Dory’s, things went a little sideways for our heroes: Keith (Ron Livingston), the private detective that joined forces with Dory, turned out not to have been hired by Chantal’s family, making Dory feel pretty weird about having slept with him — and Drew even more so. One misunderstanding led to another, and Dory and Drew ended up (accidentally?) killing Keith with a taser and a candlestick. Elliott stumbled in, they all shoved Keith’s body into a closet, and then Portia returned with Mathieu, a hot local she wants to hook up with, and Chantal, who quickly made clear none of the nefarious theories the troupe had concocted to explain Chantal’s disappearance were anywhere close. Chantal ran off to Montreal on her own, Keith tried to find her for the reward, end of story. “Isn’t this hilarious, you guys?” Portia chirped. “Like, nothing happened! We literally thought all these crazy bad things and literally nothing happened.”
Season 2 picks up precisely where the finale left off, with Dory, Drew, and Elliott in a daze, Chantal totally clueless and eager to hang out with her new old friends, and Portia still trying to get with Mathieu, unaware that there’s a body in the closet. The foursome has to deal with the body, return Chantal to her parents, and go back to New York, haunted both by what they’ve done and by the fear of getting caught — but not before spending the night doing blow, drinking, and dancing, so as not to let on to Chantal and Mathieu what’s happened.
It may be a little premature to say after only watching three episodes, but season 2 of Search Party may be even stronger than the first, because where season 1 was about these characters being shallow and rudderless and narcissistic (except for Drew, who is mostly just a punching bag for Dory), here there are real stakes, and the guilt of what they’ve done is visibly weighing on them. As great as all of their performances were last year, the whole cast brings it up a couple of notches, particularly Shawkat, and that brings the whole thing up a notch or two.
They all go back to their lives: Drew, now broken up with Dory and resentful of the mess she dragged him into (and the whole sleeping with Keith thing), back to his low-level Wall Street job; Dory, kicked out of Drew’s apartment, moves in with Gail (Christine Taylor), the bored, pill-popping housewife, and fights anxiety attacks; Elliott and Portia, like the good medicated millennials they are, go back to work on his memoir and her acting career, respectively; Dory’s skeptical ex Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall) decides to write an article about how Dory rescued Chantal; and Chantal continues to be the absolute worst.
I can’t tell you how enjoyable it is to go back into this world, with these characters. I am so in love with each one of them, and each one of them is bringing something unique. There is such a great attention to detail in the show as a whole, from the decor in Drew’s apartment to the way even the smallest characters, like Chantal’s brother-in-law, are so fully fleshed out with just a few lines. Search Party is a treat, soup to nuts, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.
Season 2 of Search Party premieres at 10pm ET Sunday on TBS; all of Season 1 is available on-demand.