Search Party season 3 puts the truth on trial: Review
The cult comedy makes a move to HBO Max for season 3, as Dory (Alia Shawkat) seeks to prove to the world that she's not a murderer (even though she is).
When we last saw Search Party’s Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat), she was sitting in the back of a police car, staring at her fractured image in the cruiser’s cracked rear-view mirror. Over the course of the dark comedy’s two seasons, we watched Dory evolve from inert millennial to misguided sleuth to full-fledged murderer — and part of Search Party’s absurdist appeal stems from its dogged refusal to lead Dory or her solipsistic sidekicks toward redemption. That commitment continues in season three (premiering June 25 on HBO Max), as Dory decides to live her truth — even though it bears little resemblance to actual reality.
The Dory we met in Search Party’s 2016 premiere was unmoored and unmotivated, a young woman so desperate for a purpose that she invented one almost at random, vowing to locate her missing college acquaintance, Chantal (Clare McNulty), and bring her home. Now, having accidentally killed private eye Keith Powell (Ron Livingston) in season 1 and deliberately killed her blackmailer, April (Phoebe Tyers), in season 2, Dory finds herself on trial for Keith’s murder, with her hapless, off-again boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) charged as an accomplice. Though a plea of self-defense seems like her best bet, Dory publicly announces that she had “nothing to do” with Keith’s death — much to the chagrin of Drew and her friends/literal partners in crime Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner). “It just felt right to me in the moment,” explains Dory. “This way, it’s like nothing happened, you know what I mean?”
Search Party’s creators Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter built this beautifully bleak comedy on the backs of characters who consistently indulge their worst instincts. Though season 3 was shot in 2018, Dory’s approach to her predicament — the “truth is what you want it to be” defense — feels very timely. As Dory and Drew’s trial becomes a national sensation, the media drowns out the facts with snap judgments and snackable headlines: “Gory” Dory is a monster; dreamy Drew was manipulated into doing her dastardly bidding. The trial allows Search Party to delve deeper into the characters’ backstories: Dory recruits her estranged parents (Ramsey Faragallah and Jacqueline Antaramian) for a television interview, while federal prosecutor Polly Danzinger (the masterfully sardonic Michaela Watkins) picks apart the details of Elliot’s apocryphal public image. And Shalita Grant (NCIS: New Orleans) is hilarious as Dory’s attorney Cassidy Diamond, an inexperienced showboat who talks like a perpetually-affronted Valley girl.
For a show that’s usually plotted with Seinfeldian precision, Search Party struggles a bit to keep all of its characters engaged in season 3. Some subplots, like Chantal’s naïve attempts to launch a "luxury" shelter for heartbroken women, and Portia’s half-hearted religious awakening, feel aimless. But each half-hour is layered with so much savvy hipster humor — female inmates arguing over Lady Bird; Elliott and Marc (Jeffery Self) choosing “attention” as their wedding theme; a Yanny/Laurel gag that still lands in 2020 — the missteps don’t derail viewer enjoyment.
Search Party now fully embraces Dory’s sociopathic nature, and Shawkat brings a chilling element of detachment to her character’s burgeoning confidence. “Everybody can tell me what I can’t do, but nobody can tell me what I can do,” Dory lamented back in season 1. This time around, our black-hearted heroine won’t let anyone tell her what she actually did do, and it’s a thrill to watch. Grade: B+
Search Party season 3 premieres Thursday, June 25 on HBO Max.