When it comes to murder cases being solved by top-notch comedic performers, we're knee-deep in a golden age. Apple TV+'s The Afterparty picks up the trend where Hulu's Only Murders in the Building left off (and where NBC's Trial and Error laid some groundwork, and where HBO Max's Search Party has dabbled as well). The new series comes from creator Christopher Miller and executive producer Phil Lord, who together have given us everything from Clone High to the 21 Jump Street reboots to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The trademarks of their productions tend to be large, strong ensemble casts and a dexterity when it comes to genres, both of which are on full display in this eight-episode series about a high school reunion afterparty that ends in a murder, and the investigation that follows.
Wringing comedy from a whodunnit is a great delivery system for a cast willing to play off of each other, and The Afterparty boasts a cast full of comedy killers, headlined by Tiffany Haddish as Detective Danner, the lead investigator into the murder of douchey pop star and Class of 2006 member Xavier (Dave Franco), whose dead body is found crashed upon the rocks below his Bay Area cliffside mansion. The suspects are all the guests Xavier invited to the reunion afterparty, including mild-mannered Aniq (Sam Richardson), who wakes up amid the revelry with his pants around his ankles and his face drawn on. Clearly, some stuff went down, and as Danner interviews each of the suspects, more pieces to the puzzle fall into place.\
If you've watched TV before, you won't be surprised that this setup leads to a Rashomon scenario where each suspect tells their story and the events of the night seem different in each telling. But Miller and Lord have decided to get creative with Kurosawa's tried and true by presenting each character's story in a different genre. Danner — who's trying to get this case solved tonight before her boss can send in some hotshot from L.A. to take over — says she likes to get everyone's unique story, their "mind movie," if you will. And so each episode gives The Afterparty and its talented cast a chance to spread its wings, and it pays off again and again.
Aniq's story kicks things off with a romantic comedy. He's come to the reunion to finally have a shot with Zoe (Zoe Chao), though he ends up running afoul of Brett (Ike Barinholtz), Zoe's estranged husband. Brett's episode is a kind of Fast & Furious-styled action blockbuster, complete with growling alpha males and sleek, lens-flared cinematography. As is boilerplate for a murder mystery, everyone ends up with a motive to kill Xavier, who turns out to be a real candidate for the fuckboy hall of fame, and watching Dave Franco do his best Bieber is something to savor. You absolutely understand why any one of these people would want to shove him off that balcony.
There's Yasper (Ben Schwartz), who installs audio/visual systems but who wants to be the world's crappiest musician and who wants Xander to "bless" his new track since they were in the same ska band in high school. The audience gets the absolute pleasure of watching Schwartz star in a musical episode that delivers three absolute bangers and may well be the comedic actor's best-ever work on television, all due apologies to every Jean Ralphio scene on Parks and Rec.
Not all the genre parodies are quite as dazzling, Ilana Glazer's Chelsea, whose reputation as an addled, trampy mess precedes her into the reunion, gets a quasi-horror parody that abandons itself after a while. Barinoltz gives good Vin Diesel, but the action-movie setup writes a check that the show ultimately declines to cash. But if the reach of Miller and Lord's genre experiments occasionally exceeds their grasp, at least they've got their killer cast to fall back on, a group that also includes Search Party's John Early as Haddish's partner, Jamie Demetriou as a skulking wallflower who nobody seems to remember, and The Good Place's Tiya Sircar as one of two pregnant Jennifers.
It's neither fair nor accurate to describe a show that takes as many genre chances as The Afterparty does as formulaic in any way. And yet there's a degree to which a show with this premise and this cast really can't fail. The floor for a group like this doing murder-mystery Rashomon is just too high. Sam Richardson and Ben Schwartz playing off of each other as Aniq and Yasper try to solve the case on their own was never going to backfire. If this sounds like the kind of show you'd like, it absolutely is. If you end up getting dazzled by a musical extravaganza or an animated episode along the way, well, that's just a big ol' bonus, isn't it?
The first three episodes of The Afterparty premiere on Apple TV Friday January 28th. Subsequent episodes release weekly through March 4th.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.