If you’re like me, you completed Search Party around Thanksgiving, and then completed it a second time with a significant other, close friend, or blood relative. Over Christmas, you cherry picked through TBS’ marathon, stepping in and out of the living room in between bouts of leftover advent chocolate.
Then, if you’re still like me, you were initially dismayed at the possibility that the show would not continue into a second season, then satisfied at the rarity of a network leaving a satisfying story well enough alone, then dismayed again, at which point TBS announced the renewal of all its current programming, starting the whole cycle over again.
But who knows when we’ll be getting Search Party season two, and even then, that season could go in a dramatic new direction, considering (SPOILER) the nasty spot Dory and Co. have found themselves in.
So, in the spirit of keeping the good times a rollin’, here are ten more comedy-mysteries (excluding straight genre parodies, we’re looking more at movies, TV shows, and the odd book which mirror or else anticipate Search Party as a comedy-noir) to satisfy your fix.
This massively underrated HBO comedy from novelist Jonathan Ames is basically Search Party’s clearest televisual antecedent. Jason Schwartzman plays Ames himself (or some version thereof), a white-wine-swilling, pot-smoking writer who, after a bad breakup, begins moonlighting as an unlicensed private detective. Roped into the increasingly dangerous proceedings is his best friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis), as is his wealthy benefactor/employer, played by a blissfully unaware Ted Danson in what is arguably his best role. The hijinks are sillier, the structure more episodic, and the tone overall much lighter than in Search Party, but if you’re looking for more Brooklyn-based mysteries featuring completely unqualified detectives, you should start here.
And then move here! Woody Allen turned an early draft of Annie Hall into this 1994 comedy, featuring Allen and Diane Keaton as a couple who begin to suspect their neighbor (Jerry Adler) of murdering his wife. The movie is solid—especially a supporting turn from Alan Alda—but suffers a little from an abundance of Allen-ness. Its premise and execution are greatly improved upon, however, in Wild Canaries, a 2014 independent film from Lawrence Michael Levine (Gabi on the Roof in July), which moves the action to Brooklyn and features more overt screwball comedy elements. Both are fun, but Wild Canaries is excellent, a close Search Party relative which even features Alia Shawkat in Alan Alda’s place as Levine and Sophia Takal investigate the death of their elderly neighbor. Savor the Drew/Dory-esque relationship between leads in both instances.
Andy Richter could be the most undervalued man in show business. You’d think the least we could do in return for his years of service to Team Conan is give him his own hit sitcom. But the poor guy has had a record streak of bum luck in that department. Andy Richter Controls the Universe at least made it through two seasons, and Quintuplets through a full twenty-two episode season, but Andy Barker, P.I. was canned by NBC after four episodes, and only lived to air two more. Which is a shame, because this bubbly sitcom had charm to spare. Plus, in Andy Barker—a CPA confused for the P.I. who previously used his office—Richter found the everyman protagonist he always deserved.
Both Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. bounced back in this 2005 cult classic, featuring a petty thief (Downey) who falls into an audition for crime film, and is flown to Los Angeles for a screen test, where he meets “Gay” Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer), a P.I. hired to help him prepare for the role. Quippier on the whole than Search Party, the similarly self-aware mystery at its center is still drum tight, with third-act twists and turns to spare. And fans will appreciate the loose, unforced comedy that balances out its wackier elements.
Another hardboiled Hollywood satire, this time from crime-comedy master Elmore Leonard. Both the 1990 novel and its 1995 film adaptation starring John Travolta are quite good, and epitomize one of Leonard’s central theses: the toughs may be tough, but we are all idiots who are in way over our heads. Search Party, as I see it, agrees. Let’s hope Epix’s upcoming TV adaptation will stick to the strengths of Chili Palmer’s story as it transitions to a long-form medium.
Coen Bros. fans are divided on this one, but as far as stories about dissatisfied, regular people who find themselves sucked into an episode of completely unnecessary intrigue, it’s one of the best. When a CIA analyst (John Malkovich) quits his job to write his memoirs, the misplaced recordings of his meaningless rants are mistaken by personal trainers Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand to be classified government information. Naturally, they decide to blackmail Malkovich, and things only complicate further from there. Burn After Reading may be a bit light as far as the Coens go, but Search Party fans will love the comedy it mines out of the sheer pointlessness of the whole adventure. As will fans of unexpected head trauma.
We’ve already given some love to Terriers here at Paste, but that doesn’t disqualify it from this list. Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) may be an ex-cop, but his current lack of resources as a P.I. force him to rely on ingenuity and no short supply of luck. The usual P.I. clichés are regularly turned on their head here, as in an episode where a man asks Hank for proof of his wife’s infidelity, not out of jealousy, but because that’s how he gets off. Turns out, the wife could not be more faithful, and the resulting affair Hank stages in order to collect his reward backfires spectacularly.
Veronica Mars (Kristin Bell) may be infinitely more competent than Dory when it comes to identifying which cases need to be solved, but both are equally persistent, even when it gets them into trouble (it’s no surprise that both were designed to update Nancy Drew). Veronica Mars, over ten years old now, traffics in a very different kind of millennial satire than Search Party, as it predates the current hipster stereotype by several years. But the 2014 feature length follow-up to the show and its school-reunion storyline echoes Search Party in more than a few ways (fans of Dory’s buffoonish Scooby Gang will delight in Ryan Hansen’s Dick Casablancas).
When Dory made her way up to Chantal’s bedroom, using the light from her iPhone to investigate, my Dad, as with his characteristically brief assessments of anything we watch together, called her “plucky.” And few classic film stars are pluckier than Rosalind Russell, especially as former reporter “Hildy” Johnson, trying to get one last big scoop on an escaped convict with the help of her ex-husband (Cary Grant). It’s not the original comedy-mystery by any means, and isn’t necessarily a mystery at all, but (as with Wild Canaries) the screwball elements and timeless repartee between Grant and Russell make this a fun excursion for anyone who enjoys an exasperated “Dory!”
Jim Rockford (along with Columbo) set an important precedent in terms of what we expect from TV detectives. Not only was Rockford down-on-his-luck, he was one bad break away from being homeless, living in a dilapidated mobile home in a parking lot, which doubled as his office. He was a low budget, second-hand detective who avoided conflict or any case that was too far over his head. As the people’s detective who routinely played his low status to his advantage, he set a standard for almost every other amateur sleuth on this list. And he was ready with a quip or two if it could get him out of a tough spot.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and actor. Follow him at @grahamtechler.