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How ‘Search Party’ Season 3 Turned the Screws on Its Characters’ White Privilege

The third season skewers its privileged millennial characters as they're forced into the criminal justice system.

Search Party Season 3 Alia Shawkat Shalita Grant HBO Max

Alia Shawkat and Shalita Grant in “Search Party”

Jon Pack / WarnerMedia

Written and shot in 2018, the wait proved worth it for “Search Party” Season 3. The wickedly delightful comedic thriller about a group of entitled hipsters who become embroiled in an increasingly complicated string of crimes — some of them quite serious — had to move from TBS to HBO Max before Season 3 could debut, so it’s a good thing creators Charles Rogers and Sarah Violet-Bliss have always had their finger on the pulse. Employing the same biting and forward-looking lens that has driven the show since its 2016 debut, this latest season’s satire feels as sharp and timely as anything written today.

“The show has always been a satire on privilege and white privilege,” Rogers said during a recent phone interview. “Even though we wrote Season 3 under a different climate, it’s not like any of the themes are more or less relevant now, because the system has always been the system.”

Season 3 opens with Dory (Alia Shawkat) and her ex-boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds) being arrested for first-degree murder. Their youth, privilege, and style soon attract frenzied media attention, turning it into a high-profile case and a chance at notoriety. Meanwhile, supporting characters Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Meredith Hagner) are like, totally freaking out about what it means for them. Though “Search Party” is ultimately a comedy, and can be a very silly one at that, the show never loses sight of the high stakes. While the characters are shocked that their heinous crimes could lead to actual consequences, ultimately, the audience isn’t.

“We wanted to make sure that the joke was always on our characters, and the ways people take for granted their privilege and misuse their privilege,” Rogers said. “These characters are so extreme comedically. [This season] was an opportunity to place them in a really formal, serious setting, and contrast that with how ungrounded their behavior can be. It was definitely a tricky thing to approach, but […] what we ultimately were saying was that these people don’t see themselves fully [or] the ways they use that to work their way through the system.”

“The system is such a farce and they use it to their advantage,” Bliss added.

Search Party Season 3 Michaela Watkins and John Early HBO Max

Michaela Watkins and John Early in “Search Party”

Jon Pack / WarnerMedia

Many of the show’s funniest moments arise from the heated emotional highs and lows, something Rogers and Bliss attribute to their commitment to capturing the truth as their characters see it. 

“The characters’ emotional realities are the most important thing,” said Rogers. “That’s what anchors everything together. Sometimes their behavior is silly, sometimes they’re paranoid and scared and running from something, but they’re always playing it truthfully. Even if it’s arched or satirical, we’re still treating the characters and their lives respectfully.”

It’s this philosophy that allows a brilliant comedic actor like John Early to deliver his show-stealing performance as Elliott, a self-absorbed gay man with deep insecurities. There’s a scene in Season 2 where Elliott develops a full-body rash from the anxiety of being an accessory to murder, and the high-pitched panic Early brings to Elliott’s emotional breakdown is divine comedic inspiration.

“[Rogers] and [Bliss] realized early on that to make the show sustainable there had to be these dramatic peaks,” Early said. “What’s so nice about the show is that they’ve allowed for that for all of us.”

He also credits the creators with navigating potentially sticky subjects by having such a sharp feel for satire.

“This show is, I wanna be clear, capital ‘S’ Silly, capital ‘S’ Satirical,” Early said. “Part of the fun of it is that these ideas are kind of baked into the show, because [Rogers and Bliss] have always been writing from this moment and have always had scathing, really ruthless, feelings about millennial culture — or at last the way millennials are perceived.”

Search Party Season 3 John Early John Reynolds HBO Max

John Early and John Reynolds in “Search Party”

Jon Pack / WarnerMedia

With this season’s courtroom drama comes a slew of energetic new characters, many in the form of wildly incompetent lawyers, played by exciting guest stars Michaela Watkins, Louie Anderson, Shalita Grant, and Chelsea Peretti. The courtroom setting was a ripe one for Rogers and Bliss, who enjoyed drawing on ’90s film influences such as “The Pelican Brief” and “The Client,” while amping up the media frenzy surrounding the case. Initially, Dory pretends to be camera shy, before eventually embracing her newfound notoriety.

“We kind of pay homage to ’90s movies, where the paparazzi was outside the house and they roll up the window,” said Rogers. “There’s something so fun about those tropes, but they’re not as true today because most of the fame is on the internet, and even though there’s paparazzi, there isn’t that dark glamor vibe. But that was one of the more soapy genre things that we thought would be fun to play with.”

Ultimately, “Search Party” is Dory’s story, love her or hate her. The rest of the characters are inextricably bound to her often unhinged whims, and what keeps “Search Party” exciting is that she remains opaque and unpredictable. Major plot points develop from the ways Dory lashes out, with often inexplicable motives and against her own interests. She’s a fascinating character, mostly because she remains shrouded in mystery.

“Dory’s psyche is always at the forefront of the show,” said Rogers. “What the show is ultimately servicing is the story of this person’s brain and all the places it can go.”

“Search Party” Season 3 is streaming on HBO Max. 

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