The creators of the TBS breakout comedy open up to ET about changing up the formula of the show -- and getting away with murder.
Shows about the misadventures of twentysomethings are a television staple, but the TBS breakout Search Party -- with its sly combination of suspenseful thrills and tons of character-driven laughs -- is in a class all its own.
Alia Shawkat, whose rising profile includes work on Arrested Development and Transparent, plays Dory, the face of this ragtag search party. Dory’s restlessness to do something meaningful with her life leads her to look for former schoolmate Chantal Witherbottom after happening on a missing person sign at the series outset. She winds up dragging her reluctant friends into the search: her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Drew (Stranger Things’ John Reynolds), her aggressively vapid-seeming besties Portia (Meredith Hagner, of Younger and Strangers on Facebook Watch) and Elliott (John Early, of the Wet Hot American Summer Netflix series and High Maintenance), and her ex-boyfriend-turned-journalist Julian (Brandon Micheal Hall, who also stars on The Mayor).
By the season one finale, the four friends find what they’ve been looking for. Of course, they never thought they’d wind up killing someone -- and digging him a shallow grave in the woods (RIP Keith, aka Rob Livingston) -- in the process. Now that Chantal (Clare McNulty) is back, having run away of her own accord, it’s the foursome who are on the lam when season two kicks off Sunday, Nov. 19.
Creating the series with Michael Showalter was a natural collaboration for writing partners Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, whose 2014 feature Fort Tilden (also starring McNulty), won the Grand Jury Award when it premiered at SXSW. The pair went on to work with Showalter in the writers’ room for Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, where all three shared a fascination with the first season of Serial. ET caught up with Rogers and Showalter at Manhattan’s Public Hotel, and separately with Bliss over the phone from Los Angeles, to discuss the inner workings of season two.
“Adding the mystery element gave the show a feeling of being about more than just hipsters living in Williamsburg and their daily misadventures -- this bigger question to explore,” Showalter says of co-conceiving Search Party, which turns its lens on the aimless millennial milieu Bliss and Rogers explored in Fort Tilden. That said, all three agree that the series isn’t just about the current generation of much-maligned young people. “It’s a universal thing of being in your 20s, trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, what kind of person you want to be,” Showalter says.
“The formula is completely different,” Bliss says of approaching season two. “Obviously season one was focused on solving a mystery, and this was more, ‘How do we get away with murder?’ It was a huge shift.” Bliss and Rogers both admit that after the first season’s shocking final twist, figuring out where to take the story while maintaining the show’s core identity was a fun challenge to tackle. “You really want to give people juicy, fun, sensational storylines, but you also never want it to feel like it’s turned into a cartoon or a soap opera. It always has to feel like it’s all born out of character,” Rogers says.
As each character grapples with what they’ve done, the sophomore season grows progressively darker, including its sense of humor. “With both seasons, we mapped out the plot first before there really was much humor,” Bliss says. “When you’re doing that it’s like, ‘Is this ever going to be funny? This is just horrible!’ But what we found is the darker it gets, the funnier it gets.” Though the conspirators may be losing their minds, they still have to act like everything’s just fine, which takes a lot of mental gymnastics. “You’ve still gotta go to brunch when you’ve killed someone. Life goes on!” Bliss jokes. “Shit happens, and you don’t live up to who you thought you were going to be.”
One of the most striking aspects of the second season is that the characters only grow more sympathetic the more awful things they do -- a common TV trope from Mad Men to Shameless that the Search Party cast manages to pull off with humor, all while covering up a murder. “They’re sensitive, and they don’t want to be killers, but they are. Is it enough to not want to have done something that you’ve done? Can you redeem yourself from your mistakes? Or are you stuck with the life you’ve made for yourself?” Bliss says of the questions staring down the group. Rogers adds, “That balance they ride, [between] caricature and very emotionally grounded characters, keeps you at just the right distance to laugh at them but never feel like, ‘Oh, these are terrible people, I can’t sit with this anymore.’”
Rogers refers to the second season as “a ticking clock for if -- or when -- they get caught,” with the creators hoping to keep audiences on the edge of their seats from week to week. (Though many viewers may have caught on to the first season by bingeing on the TBS app.) All three creators also hint at more creative challenges ahead when (or if) the series continues beyond season two. For now, fans can expect a thrilling ride from the new episodes, including another array of exciting guest stars. Christine Taylor, Christine Ebersole and Jeffery Self return, as well as Showalter himself. Also watch out for Jay Duplass, Phoebe Robinson of 2 Dope Queens, Judy Reyes and J. Smith Cameron, to name a few.
“Starting from the moment of Dory seeing that missing person sign, their lives are going to change in this insane way because of that one decision,” Showalter says. “Can one little incident like this irrevocably change the course of your life?” We’re about to find out.
Search Party airs Sundays at 10 and 10:30 p.m. ET on TBS.