TBS doesn’t seem to know the best way to distribute Search Party. Last year, they made the unusual decision to make the series binge-able through their free on-demand service, which made for some fun, digestible viewing but also resulted in the series being dropped into the world with little to no fanfare.
This year, the network is bundling the episodes in pairs and airing them back-to-back, which occasionally makes for awkward pacing issues, especially since the episodes rarely have any thematic similarities, beyond the overarching subtext of the series. But when it comes to a bundle like Episode 7, “Denial,” and Episode 8, “Hysteria”, the show feels even stranger. This week, the former proved to be a major misstep for the thus far phenomenal series, and the latter was one of their most suspenseful episodes to date.
“Denial” finally gave Julian (Brandon Michael Hall) a major subplot of his own, but it ended up falling flat and feeling eerily ill-timed. This episode revealed that Julian had written a scathing analysis of Chantal’s (false) kidnapping claims, an article that questions her account of the events and could possibly put Dory and her friends back in danger. But the piece backfires, as many of Julian’s former friends and coworkers accuse him of mistreating abuse victims, which eventually destroys his reputation. But, in a final, bitter, twist, the politician that Julian had been working for (J. Smith Cameron) begins sexually harassing him, and essentially blackmails him into staying with her team. It’s an unusual, tonally odd episode that seriously drags the other subplots down with it. Search Party seemingly wants to have an episode about sexual harassment, but doesn’t want to make a political statement with it, and that just can’t happen in today’s current climate, where many victims are finally being heard on a national stage. Let’s hope this subplot is dropped quickly.
But the second episode of the night totally made up for any problems with the first. In “Hysteria”, Dory and Drew were interrogated by Joy, the detective looking into Keith’s murder. This interrogation scene is a marriage of brilliant writing and impressive direction, with the tension building at just the right rate to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It’s genuinely difficult to predict how much Joy knows about Dory, and the double entendres and potential codes in the dialogue help make the episode a standout, long before three major twists are unveiled in the final moments. With this episode, Search Party set the stage for what should be a terrific season finale.
It’s also worth noting that just about everyone from the series’ cast had a moment to shine this week. Alia Shawkat and John Early have had a lot of great material to work with this season, while Meredith Hagner hit her tragically funny comedic scene out of the park. But it was John Reynolds who had the line-delivery of the week, as he tries to use his inability to recognize actors’ faces as an excuse for presenting a conflicting story to the police. Elsewhere, Clare McNulty steals her only scene in the pair of episodes, where Chantal tries to win back Drew but inadvertently causes more stress for the main quartet. And new addition Tymberlee Hill is absolutely wonderful as Joy, the quirkiest detective on television at the moment.
It’s unfortunate that Search Party had such a problematic subplot this week, but with the finale right around the corner, the writers (hopefully) won’t have much time to focus on it more. The series dropped a number of narrative bombshells on us , and there were at least a dozen good laughs in the hour. Flaws and all, Search Party remains the most unique and underappreciated show currently airing.
Overall rating: 7 out of 10.