Search Party has always been a dark show, but its fifth and sixth episodes, titled “Paranoia” and “Obsession,” brought things to a whole different level. Between a character’s complete mental breakdown, a near suicide attempt, and the general sense of paranoia produced by police coming close to solving Keith’s murder, this was an especially uncomfortable hour of Search Party – which made the multiple laugh-out-loud moments all the more impressive.
The first episode of the week was the strongest by just a bit, with the main foursome reuniting to be given the key to the city in honor of how they “saved” Chantal. Once again, watching Dory and her friends/co-conspirators navigate the pretentious politics of a fancy banquet is a complete joy, with quite a few great comedic bits. Jennifer Kim made a hilarious reappearance as Chantal’s long-suffering best friend, with deadpan wit that perfectly bounces off the unhinged main characters. She also delivers the best joke of the episode, a hilarious gag about Venmo that feels like a genuine conversation shared between millennials. Another layered moment in the half-hour puts Portia and Elliot’s friendship under the microscope, both examining the stereotypes surrounding the “gay best friend” archetype and mocking the boomer generation’s politically incorrect understanding of homosexuality. “Paranoia” was a well-paced, hilarious episode, leading the way into the less strong but still satisfying “Obsession.”
Unfortunately, the latter half of the two-episode block introduced some plot developments that are hard to believe, a glaring problem for a show so steeped in realism. This season’s biggest weakness is clearly Drew’s subplot, in which he tries to convince a coworker that his wife is having an affair with his boss, in an attempt to foil both their careers and climb the corporate ladder towards a job in Beijing. While it’s interesting and, frankly, fun to watch Drew embrace his dark side in an attempt to flee the country (and his past), his attempts at manipulating those around him feel incredible obvious, so watching his coworkers fall for his tricks requires the viewer to turn a blind eye on logic. Hopefully this subplot wraps up soon.
But, the rest of the episode improved, mainly due to some brilliant acting from John Early. The series has been hinting at an impending mental collapse for Elliot, but watching him finally reach a breaking point produced some of Search Party’s best-acted scenes. Early is a gifted comedian, and his ability to find humor in these dark moments speaks to his talents. He’s funny, but allows room for genuine tension and sympathy. Similarly, Alia Shawkat used both episodes to highlight her talent for nonverbal emoting, specifically in the hour’s final minutes, which all but abandoned comedy and emphasized the seriousness of the storyline.
The tonal tight rope that Search Party walks across is becoming dangerously thin, but that makes their deft ability to maneuver across it all the more impressive. With a detective closing in on the group of friends, Julian (Brandon Michael Hall) preparing a tell-all piece about Chantal’s web of lies, and a mysterious third party now blackmailing one of the group, the show clearly won’t be letting up on the anxiety-causing suspense any time soon. Luckily, we can clearly expect some satisfying laughs to go along with it.
Overall rating: 8 out of 10.