HBO Max's Search Party -- formerly TBS's Search Party -- is a show that's pretty hard to define. It's a comedy, but the laughs come sprinkled among storylines about missing persons, murder, and serious consequences. It's a drama, but in one of its most serious moments, a peckish judge of a murder trial explains to the courtroom that he has low blood sugar and proceeds to open three Tupperware containers full of snacks and grazes on them while sustaining objections. And the wild high-wire act of the story, which comes dangerously close to meandering on multiple occasions, always manages to land on its feet, whether by design or by luck, we might not ever know.
But Search Party's lasting legacy is as a time capsule for millennials, both poking fun at the adventurous generation and respectful of its gumption to be change. Season 1 followed a quartet of NYC-based post-college friends lovingly ditzed up by creators Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter as they searched for a friend, well, actually, an acquaintance, who went missing. It played out like a detective drama, but instead of hard-boiled private eyes, the search was conducted by bored 20-somethings searching more for purpose in their lives rather than another human being because they felt they were entitled to a higher purpose. After their search led them to commit accidental (?) murder, Season 2 transformed into a crime series, with the four evading questioning by cops and dealing with guilt all while trying to maintain some semblance of a normal, aspirational life that their non-culpable peers led. And in Season 3 -- which finally comes some two-and-a-half years after the conclusion of Season 2 on its new home of HBO Max -- the law catches up to them and Search Party becomes, in part, a media-frenzy courtroom drama.
When Dory (Alia Shawkat) is arrested and stands trial for murder, along with her sorta-boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), as Season 3 opens, she's both terrified about the consequences but also absorbed by the attention as Search Party explores viral fame -- both good and bad -- and truth and consequences, something the show has always been great at. Dory becomes absorbed in the truth, or her version of the truth, as things progress, taking others down in her wake as she goes through a late coming-of-age story of self-discovery, even if what she's discovering is that she's not the squeaky clean person she thought she was. For as much as Search Party adores its characters, it rightfully puts them through hell for all the grey-area wobbling and moral high ground their fingers cling to and lose their grip on one-by-one. And it's great. One character's secrets come out and ruins their life. One almost gets eaten. And then, oh yeah, two others are on trial for murder.
Season 3 does depart from previous seasons in some ways. The core four aren't always in deep together, with Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner) spending time on their own endeavors, Elliott planning his wedding to boyfriend Marc (Jeffery Self) and Portia's guilt pushing her to Christianity. Yet even apart, the characters and performances are so good -- Hagner and Early won't get Emmy nominations because the Emmys are stupid but they deserve to be in the conversation -- and things are so funny that these plots that seem to be designed to stretch things out to 10 episodes while the courtroom becomes the center of attention never feel like filler, just more bonus material for this weird world Search Party has created.
That world gets a few more incredible additions. Michaela Watkins plays the prosecuting attorney in Dory's trial, and Louie Anderson and Shalita Grant play the completely over-their-heads defense attorneys on Dory's side, with Grant and her Valley girl affectation stealing every scene while she mic drops legal arguments by saying Watkins' character is jealous of her. Chantal (Clare McNulty), the girl who originally went missing, dips in and out on her quest to become a CEO, and naturally, she has it in her mind that she wants to be a CEO before she has an idea for a business, because Chantal is, like most of her peers, dreaming of greater things than she deserves.
That idea -- we get what we deserve -- comes up frequently and fiercely in Season 3. And though it may not always have laser focus, the season is always funny, always ends each episode with a killer cliffhanger, and by the end, becomes an insightful examination of a woman, and maybe an entire generation, on the edge.
TV Guide Rating: 4/5
All three season of Search Party are available on HBO Max, which has already ordered a fourth season.