A TBS whodunit set in the coolest borough brings the heat.
What do you do after winning the grand jury award at South by Southwest for a film you started in grad school?
Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers, writer-directors of Fort Tilden , wanted to bring their biting, satirical voice to television —they just needed a hook. Their former NYU professor Michael Showalter and Jax Media’s Lilly Burns and Tony Hernandez suggested they write a thriller.
“We’re big fans of Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery and loved the idea of putting people we know in the epicenter of a more dramatic story,” Bliss says. So they put those people into Search Party, a noir comedy that got millennials buzzing when it debuted on TBS late last year.
“Each character is a combination of three people we know,” Rogers says. “We used a critical eye to draw these characters, but we also have a lot of empathy for them — and that’s where the comedy rests.”
Excited by the comedy-noir mash-up, Jax Media shot the pilot and sent it out wide. “Everyone recognized it was cool and smart,” says Michael Showalter, who created the series and exec-produces with Bliss, Rogers, Burns and Hernandez. “But only TBS had a vision for what the show could be.”
Once the pilot was picked up, the gang got into the writers’ room and the mystery evolved. Rogers admits that they were finessing the “tricky” tale up to the day they started production with their dream cast — which reflects both young New York actors and indie icons like Ron Livingston, Parker Posey and Rosie Perez.
While Search Party’s exec producers often speak of collaboration, Bliss and Rogers maintained their voice by doing a pass on all the scripts and directing much of season one. The result is a sharp Brooklynite tale in which previously uninspired Dory (Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat) leads her friends on a search for missing Chantal, a girl they barely even knew in college.
“It’s a comedy about inept people getting in over their heads,” Rogers says. “But it’s also about pursuing a meaningful life at any cost — and creating that meaning is up to you.”
Beyond the deeper premise, Showalter adds, “we were able to find a tone that’s really funny and also genuinely cool and suspenseful. Season one has this unexpected, riveting payoff, which is so rare. We left our characters in a pretty crazy place.”
Season two is due out later this year and set to pick up where the finale left off. (Latecomers can catch up on the TBS app.) Search Party shifts from mystery to psychological thriller, but Rogers says fans shouldn’t worry. “There’s still that comedy-of-manners pretense. It’s still the same world. It’s just now they have blood on their hands.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2017