Search Party is constantly reinventing itself because it turns to a different pop culture well for inspiration each season, and that remains the case in the long-awaited third season, which drops June 25 on HBO Max.
The mystery-comedy's critically acclaimed first season riffed on Nancy Drew as Dory (Alia Shawkat) and her very millennial friends searched for their missing college acquaintance, which led to Dory and Drew (John Reynolds) accidentally killing a private investigator. In response to that ending, season 2 became darker as it dove into Hitchockian territory. Now in season 3, the show's clueless hipsters — which includes John Early and Meredith Hagner's fame-seeking Elliott and Portia — find themselves in a courtroom drama as Dory and Drew are tried for the P.I. murder, and the ensuing media storm puts the entire friend group under a microscope that tests their bonds.
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Below, Search Party co-creators Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers reveal some of the biggest pop cultural influences on season 3's 10 episodes:
In staging season 3's courtroom scenes, the duo was inspired by The Pelican Brief, starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, and Joel Schumacher's The Client, both of which were adaptations of Grisham novels. "We referenced a lot of the melodrama of all of that and playing into that in a fun, campy way and really wanting it to feel really grand, and playing with the scope of those genres, and in a respectful way," Bliss tells EW.
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
The FX limited series helped the writers understand "how a story is more important than the truth, basically, and how well you can influence people by performance," says Bliss.
Rogers adds, "I know next to nothing about the judicial system. What American Crime Story did so well is dramatizing the process through the lens of these characters' emotional lives, and that's really what people are watching for — how the trial affects everyone emotionally. So it was a really good reference in that the turning points are because of the legal process, but it's really because of the way it all affects all of the people. So, that was the easiest way to sink our teeth into the season [and] to really think about, like, 'Okay, well, who are these characters and how they react under these situations, and what's the most interesting way to show that?'"
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While researching the Italian murder case, the writers were drawn to "the way in which people projected onto [Knox] whatever they wanted the situation to be and read into all of her behavior," says Rogers of the media frenzy around the trial where the American exchange student was accused of murdering British student Meredith Kercher, her roommate. "That was a really fun starting place for Dory's behavior to be scrutinized and for it to influence the way she conducts herself."
The Bling Ring and To Die For
Along the same lines, they also turned to movies like The Bling Ring and To Die For, which they thought were emblematic of the unofficial "media frenzy genre," says Rogers. "That felt like a really fun vibe to put the friends into as really superficial go-getters. It's fun to see them navigate paparazzi and attention. And the idea that this trial is a very public trial, that was kind of a big, fun trope that's in a lot stuff that felt right for our show."
Shawkat adds: "Dory — [who] in this whole show has this search for herself, or fear that there’s nothing to find when she gets there — is kind of embracing this attention in a way that is maybe more unexpected. She’s using it to lie to herself because now she can build up an identity that people are latching onto and really become that, and convince herself."
This French true-crime miniseries chronicling the 2004 trial of Michael Petersen for murdering his wife Kathleen helped the creators "really [get] into the psyche of real-life people and whether or not those people come to a place where they actually believe they didn't do it," explains Bliss. "Or, is there a point where you can get to such a terrible place that you deny it so much to the point that you eventually believe that you didn't do it? Or is there a truth in there?"
All 10 episodes of Search Party season 3 drop Thursday on HBO Max.
This article was written independently by Entertainment Weekly’s editorial team and meets our editorial standards. HBO Max is a paid advertising partner with Entertainment Weekly in Summer, 2020.