This review is spoiler-free and based on all ten episodes of Search Party Season 2.
“Right now I need everyone to do their best to pretend that their good, normal, non-murdering people.”
The first season of Search Party is one of the most well-articulated, fully formed debut seasons of a television show. It quickly proved to be more than just some edgy comedy about a missing person. It’s a deep relief to see that Search Party’s sophomore year is even more impressive than its first. One of the most satisfying things about Search Party’s first season is how authentic the characters feel. Season two is considerably more raw and honest. It’s not unlike how Stranger Things defies similar sophomore slump expectations as it goes in a challenging, different direction with its material but still retains its core values.
The first season of Search Party introduces the audience to Dory and her group of friends by putting them on a mission that’s supposed to give Dory a purpose. This year, the characters are pushed out of their comfort zones and begin to unravel. There’s almost a certain folksy charm to the first season and how it’s a grown up, millennial Nancy Drew mystery.The marketing for the show even leaned into the comparison. There’s nothing folksy about Dory and company as murderers though, and the show evolves in surprising, compelling ways as a result.
Dory is stuck on a dark slope and it wouldn’t even surprise me if a hypothetical third season goes even darker and has Dory on trial or in prison. This isn’t a bad thing and if anything it shows how fearless the people behind Search Party are. Few shows will allow themselves to take such seismic risks because it jeopardizes their longevity, but Search Party feels like a burst of lightning that comes and goes rather than a series that overstays its welcome. At no point does it feel like this season drags its feet, which makes the urgency of Dory’s situation all the more suspenseful. There are still all of those great cliffhangers at the end of each episode too, as the plot continually grows more intense. It’s the perfect balance of comedy and high stakes drama.
Much of this season deals with how the guilt of Dory and her friends grows with each new episode. The gang makes poor decision after poor decision as they desperately try to stay afloat, but it’s hard to not empathize with them. The twisted comedy comes from how all of these people can barely live their normal lives, and now they’re burdened with an impossible threat that looms over them. Every aspect of this thing is too much for these characters. It makes for great material to scream at as Dory and company continue to implicate themselves further in this mess.
This season acts as a beautiful study on how guilt can fester and feed into paranoia and cause rash decisions. The way that Dory’s mess unravels will give the audience just as much of a panic attack as its characters. The whole season is like one big game of chicken that Dory plays with rationality as the audience waits for her to crack. That’s not always the best recipe for comedy, but the show deserves credit as it takes these risks and trusts its vision.
Furthermore, the season raises the enlightening question of whether Dory even deserves to get away with murder. The first season elegantly illustrates how Dory makes a lot of mistakes and that finding Chantal is meant to be a redemption of sorts for her. Well, now she’s done the worst thing imaginable and the show certainly isn’t past exercising the idea that maybe it wouldn’t be that bad if Dory gets caught.
Everyone really goes through the gauntlet this season and it’s fun to see how this stress manifests itself in different ways, whether it’s breakdowns at work or disgusting hives. Elliott in particular goes to some crazy places that really show off how John Early’s talents know no limits. Meredith Hagner’s Portia also is put through the wringer in a grueling way that accentuates the co-dependent side of guilt. Alia Shawkat is once again the clear standout though and she really goes above and beyond here. She does inspired work as Dory in season one, but within the first few episodes of season two she already manages to top her performance from the previous year. It’s fair to say that this season features some of the best work of Shawkat’s career.
The entire cast does such a great job, but new to this season is Chantal, the gang’s “victory” from last season. It’s delightful to see how miserable she makes the group and Clare McNulty excels at playing the odd man out when she’s with everyone else. Her character is the embodiment of “be careful what you wish for.” She’s a welcome presence/collective punching bag for this group of misfits.
Search Party also doesn’t try to sugarcoat the huge, terrible act that goes down and that’s what so beautiful and effective about this season. It’s fundamentally wrong to commit murder and then cover it up, but the show makes this even more painful for Dory. Details like how the now-dead Keith (Ron Livingston) is a father and has people out there that care about him continues to make him feel like a human rather than just a mistake. What’s even more poetic about this is that every person that wants to find the missing Keith is no different than Dory and her mission in the first season. In a sick way, she gives a number of people the very purpose that she’s missing.
Search Party’s second season is in every way more of a ride than the first. A story of this gravity could easily fall apart under its own weight, which makes this show’s ability to pull it off all the more impressive. There’s not a single misfire here between the comedy, drama, pacing, and acting. Search Party’s first season was one of my favorite shows of 2016 and as this year begins to come to a close I can confidently say that the show’s second season is one of my favorite titles of 2017.
Search Party Season 2 premieres on November 19th at 10 p.m. on TBS, where it will air two episodes each Sunday.