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Search Party - The Accused Woman/The Rookie Lawyer/The Whistleblower - Review

The search is finally over for season three of genre-bending comedy “Search Party,” though now you’ll have to find it on HBO Max instead of TBS. Thankfully, this initial trio of episodes – “The Accused Woman,” “The Rookie Lawyer,” and “The Whistleblower” – are a sharp return that were worth the wait. But since we haven’t gone to brunch with the gang since 2017, let’s first refresh ourselves on what came before.

Season one found directionless twentysomething Dory (Alia Shawkat) becoming preoccupied with the disappearance of Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty), an extremely casual acquaintance from college. Along the way, she wheedles her doofy boyfriend Drew (John Reynolds), ditzy pal Portia (Meredith Hagner), and egotistical friend Elliott (John Early) into joining the investigation. As the season went on, Dory became convinced Chantal was in real danger, but it turned out she was putting the puzzle pieces together all wrong, as Chantal was simply hiding out after a bad breakup. Unfortunately, that’s only revealed after Dory and Drew accidentally kill Keith (Ron Livingston), a PI who was trying to collect a reward on Chantal’s case, and who Dory also cheated on Drew with.

The second season forces the friends into a cover-up as they dispose of Keith’s body and swear each other to secrecy. Unsurprisingly, their guilt soon starts affecting them in different ways – Elliott’s manifests in physical ailments, Portia falls under the spell of a theater Svengali, etc. They also start getting blackmailed by someone who knows what they did. It turns out the culprit is April (Phoebe Tyers), Dory and Drew's caustic upstairs neighbor. And when all other attempts to circumvent her fail, in a shock act of madness, Dory shoves April off a ferry to her death. But it’s all for naught, as she still ends the season under arrest for Keith’s murder.

And that’s exactly where we pick up with Dory in “The Accused Woman,” in the back of a squad car. As she’s processed by bumbling cops, irritated by a high school classmate who’s in cuffs for vandalizing her ex-boyfriend’s bar, and haunted by a soggy specter of April, Dory has only one objective – getting her hands on the cassette tape April made of her and Drew talking about Keith’s murder, which the cops confiscated when she was arrested. She ends up smashing herself in the face with her handcuffs until she bleeds, fakes a medical emergency, and manages to get close enough to the tape to destroy it. “Acting pretty calm for a murderer,” one of the officers snarks at one point, and it’s true, Shawkat plays Dory almost scarily cool, which seems to be a sign of where Dory’s mental state is heading as the season proceeds.

Meanwhile, when they learn about Dory’s arrest via her old boss Gail (Christine Taylor, who adds some levity to the episode as Gail bobbles her way through Dory’s call for help while in a movie theater), the others react pretty on-brand. Drew makes a foolhardy attempt to flee the country, but after some amusing airplane business (“Looks like ground control was able to safety fish the little hummingbird out of the gas tank, and they’re saying the little guy is A-OK!”), he too gets his ass arrested. Elliott collapses into the arms of mistreated boyfriend-turned-fiancĂ© Marc (Jeffery Self). And Portia seeks assurances from Elijah (Jay Duplass) that he didn’t repeat what she told him about the friends’ secret, and he swears that he “told nobody.”

Except uh oh! Early in “The Rookie Lawyer,” Portia realizes that by “nobody,” Elijah meant stage manager Meg (Lisa Haas, “Catfight”), who’s the one who tipped off the cops (how the recording of her anonymous call ended up online, I have no idea). Assuming they’re going to get arrested themselves at any minute, Portia and Elliott flee to the Hamptons, where they amusingly dye their hair black and get roped into babysitting. Elsewhere, Chantal sees the news about Dory and Drew’s arrests on TV and is forced to come clean to her family about what really happened re: her disappearance. Harangued by them about the money she got as a result, Chantal swears she’s going to pay everything back by starting a business (this subplot is picked up again in the third episode when she attends a women’s empowerment seminar. Right now, it seems superfluous, but I assume this will tie into the main story eventually, somehow).

But the main action in the episode involves the titular newbie legal counselor. Gail arranges for rich friends of hers to pay Dory’s bail, but the catch is that she allow their daughter Cassidy (Shalita Grant, “NCIS: New Orleans”) to represent her. Cassidy outwardly seems vapid and Valley Girl-ish, but as she runs through Dory’s options, she does seem to have a handle on the situation. Her advice is to keep quiet and wait for the federal prosecutor – Polly Danzinger, played by Michaela Watkins of “The Unicorn” – to make the first move. But when she’s mobbed by the press outside her building, Dory stupidly is compelled to make a statement in which she claims she and Drew had “absolutely nothing to do” with Keith’s murder and are in fact “completely innocent,” which severely limits their legal strategy.

Cassidy and Drew and Drew’s uninspiring lawyer Bob Lunch (Louie Anderson, “Baskets”) are still trying to make sense of why she did that in the third episode, “The Whistleblower.” Dory is aggressively defensive with Cassidy, but later bafflingly admits to Drew that “it just felt like the truth to [her]” in the moment. What everyone can agree on, though, is that Dory and Drew need to present a united front, that “young love” is something they can spin in their favor.

And they’re going to need every advantage, thanks to Portia. Her friends are furious when she admits that they’re in this mess because of her blabbing to Elijah. So the pressure is really on when she and Elliott are hauled in for questioning as soon as they’re back in the city. But while Elliott breezily skates through with help from his lawyer friend Pasty (in a winning guest appearance by “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” alum Chelsea Peretti), Portia is easily, almost comically outmaneuvered by a detective and, in a self-preservation panic, ends up signing a statement incriminating Dory and Drew.

Finally, there’s the creepy cliffhanger that caps off episode three. We see a man getting Dory’s name tattooed on his knuckles while he enthuses about their friendship to the tattoo artist, though he admits that they haven’t met yet. Intriguing!

So that’s the first three episodes of season three of “Search Party.” Were you happy to be reunited with the show after such a long absence? And which episode in the trinity did you like best – “The Accused Woman,” “The Rookie Lawyer,” or “The Whistleblower?” Share your take in the comments section.

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