Search Party finds its dark side in season 2
A dead body is just the beginning for the second season of the Alia Shawkat-starring series. The cast and producers give EW a taste of the Hitchcockian thrills that await.
“No, no, no, no,” mutters a woman on the street as actor John Early, accompanied by his onscreen partner-in-crime Meredith Hagner, walks through Brooklyn on the penultimate day of shooting Search Party‘s second season. No, the woman isn’t annoyed that yet another TV show has taken over the neighborhood. She’s just echoing the outrageously loud outfit Early is wearing this August day: a navy blue sweatsuit covered in tens of metallic Nos (designed by Peggy Noland). “Like with most of Elliott’s looks, I got a lot of responses,” Early later tells EW of his character’s attire. You could say it’s apropos, seeing as “no, no, no, no” is a sentiment the cast and crew have heard from some viewers conflicted about another season of TBS’ genre-mixing series.
“I know there were some reviews that were like, ‘They should just stop at one season!’ but we felt the opposite,” says executive producer Lilly Burns. “We literally left them on a cliff-hanger. We had so much more story to tell.” Put another way: “We definitely wanted another season,” says co-creator Sarah-Violet Bliss.
Debuting last fall to rave reviews, Search Party‘s first season was essentially Girls meets Pretty Little Liars. It followed Dory (Alia Shawkat), an aimless millennial, and her friends Elliott (Early), budding actress Portia (Hagner), and then-boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) as they tried to find their missing college acquaintance, Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty). Under the stewardship of creators Charles Rogers, Michael Showalter (who directs in season 2), and Bliss, the show seamlessly blended comedy and mystery while also offering incisive commentary on self-involved millennial culture — which came to a climax in the finale. Because, as it turned out, there wasn’t a mystery at all; Chantal had simply fled to a friend’s Montreal home after a bad breakup. And the squad’s problems went from imaginary to too real when they accidentally killed Keith (Ron Livingston), a private investigator with whom Dory had had a brief affair. It was the perfect ending, funny and sad.
In season 2, the writers continue to mine comedic gold out of placing these absurdly inept hipsters in ridiculous situations. But instead of trying to solve a crime, they’re trying to cover one up, transforming the show into a psychological thriller, albeit a hilarious one. Case in point: The premiere, which picks up immediately where the finale left off, follows Dory and friends as they bury Keith’s body. It was a challenging scene to shoot — and not just because Portia had to shovel in heels.
“We were in a park and fighting the rain,” says Reynolds. “But that was good for the frantic pace and energy.” Adds Shawkat: “It’s intense… literally dragging Ron Livingston’s body around and making it realistic and being like, ‘Well, would I be able to carry this on my own? No.'”
The how of burying a body wasn’t the only hurdle the show needed to clear in season 2. Understanding the characters’ tortured psyches in the wake of such a heinous act made the writing process more complicated. “This season there was a lot of ‘But why would they do that?’ And that was our hardest question every time we wanted them to make a bad decision,” says Bliss.
Yet that struggle didn’t register with the cast, who say they felt like the writers had an even better handle on their characters’ voices. “There was a lot more [improvisation] in season 1, and now the scripts are so tight and the stakes are so high that it does so much of the job for you,” says Hagner. Rogers is quick to add a caveat: “I think what they’re responding to is that this season each character experiences a deeper and meatier story line than the last.”
The majority of the season is about “this incredibly traumatic and horrific thing that they’ve all participated in [and] the different ways in which it affects them individually,” says Showalter. For example, Portia gets cast in a Charles Manson-themed play that ends up providing a kind of catharsis, and Elliott’s body starts to fail him in more ways than one. “He is outwardly the most forward-moving of the four and the most pragmatic, but [his stress] ends up expressing itself physically,” teases Early.
So the season gets off to a strong start, but can it stick the landing? That depends on how interested you are in pondering the impermanence of life. Back on set, after finishing her last line of dialogue for the entire season, Hagner joined Bliss, Rogers, and Early by the monitors and asked them to describe the season’s ending in one word. Said Rogers, “Mortality.” How ominous.
Search Party premieres Nov. 19 at 10 p.m. on TBS.