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In The Afterparty, Families Create More Conflict Than the Murder Mystery

The Apple TV+ series deals with some weightier storylines as it reaches the midseason point.
  • Anna Konkle, Elizabeth Perkins, Zach Woods, Poppy Liu, John Cho, Vivian Wu, Ken Jeong, and Zöe Chao in The Afterparty (Photo: Apple TV+, Primetimer graphic)
    Anna Konkle, Elizabeth Perkins, Zach Woods, Poppy Liu, John Cho, Vivian Wu, Ken Jeong, and Zöe Chao in The Afterparty (Photo: Apple TV+, Primetimer graphic)

    In its second season, The Afterparty faces the challenge of crafting a gripping new mystery while maintaining the charm that endeared the series to audiences in the first place. That meant venturing into unexpected territory that might not seem like typical genres upon first glance. Last week, Hannah’s (Anna Konkle) episode was told through the style of a Wes Anderson film, while Sebastian’s installment (Jack Whitehall) veers into spy heist territory.

    Season 2 has also expanded the time frame for each character to share their side of the story, enabling deeper explorations into everyone’s origin stories, rather than merely recounting the weekend’s events. It provides the series with a more pronounced familial focus, moving beyond just a simple murder mystery premise. As the case unfolds, The Afterparty delves into themes of generational trauma and cultural divisions, infusing the show’s comedy with some weightier storylines.

    During a press junket held in June, prior to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the cast spoke with Primetimer about building contrasting familial relationships. There’s the bride’s family, who harbors their own secrets but are nevertheless full of a very pure and warm love for one another. On the other hand, the groom’s family is steeped in friction and unease. Elizabeth Perkins, who plays Edgar’s (Zach Woods) mother Isabel, noted that the cultural differences between the two households created an immediate clash.

    “For Grace’s family to come into, let’s just call it this very white household, who sort of looked at them like, ‘Who are you people?’ Right there, you’ve got another conflict,” Perkins tells us. “And then there was a generation gap, which also created a conflict, there was a wealth gap that created a conflict. Just innately, the two families coming together for this wedding, they were automatically at odds with each other.”

    The hostilities between the two households also permeate the inner workings of the groom’s family. One significant source of tension lies between Isabel and her adoptive daughter. While both Perkins and Konkle expressed a desire for their relationship to have been explored more thoroughly, Hannah’s episode offered a glimpse into their strained connection, as she mentions growing up with a frigid mother who rarely provided affection. Later, when Isabel notices Hannah looking upset in the bathtub, she quickly tells her daughter to “get over it.”

    Perkins believes the tense relationship between Isabel and Edgar played a role in creating an even larger divide between the mother-daughter duo. “It’s such a fresh, obviously fractured and painful relationship for both of them,” she says. “I actually think it’s more painful for Hannah — or at least we see the pain in Hannah more than we see it in Isabel — because Isabel is just shut down. You see her try and get closer to Edgar and he’s just a wall. And Isabel is kind of begging him like, ‘Help me, help me, help me!’ I think for years she was trying to be vulnerable with Edgar, and when that didn’t play out, she just shut [her relationship with Hannah] down. I think she’s just in a lot of pain.”

    On the bride’s side, there’s Vivian, Zöe (Zöe Chao) and Grace’s (Poppy Liu) mother, played by Vivian Wu, who finds that family dynamic to be a reflection of their cultural backgrounds. In many Asian households, parents often view keeping secrets as an act of love and security, wanting to shield their children from any and all kinds of external worries. To Wu, Vivian is the epitome of this sentiment, presenting herself as more reserved on the surface while holding a deeper, more delicate persona underneath.

    As Wu fell in love with her on-set daughters, her genuine connection with both women became crucial to informing her performance and shaping the relationships, both on and off camera. Recalling a memory during filming, the Irma Vep actress notes that she was the first one to suspect Liu’s pregnancy, which led her to be especially protective towards her co-star.

    “I just knew, like a motherly instinct,” says Wu. “I had this innate sense of protecting her from drinking ice water and making sure she’s going to have enough food and she’s not going to vomit on set and all that. I think that knowing that she was making the biggest production in her belly really helped me bond with her. That’s my little flower!”

    Season 2 is also an ode to dysfunctional sibling dynamics. Edgar and Hannah’s relationship stands out in particular, as they bonded over a shared love for unconventional hobbies during their childhood. As they grew older, Edgar gradually distanced himself from his sister to focus on his cryptocurrency business. Yet in many ways, says Konkle, Edgar remains the closest to Hannah, primarily due to the emotional distance between her and their mother.

    Konkle emphasizes how safe she felt acting opposite Woods. “Every take was different,” she reminisced. “He was always improvising. He always had, I felt like, a monologue on the tip of his tongue that actually would make it into the cut. He’s definitely a writer and a filmmaker, so it was just really nice that we could kind of play in that way together.”

    Liu had a similar experience working with Chao, telling Primetimer that she believes they were definitely siblings in another lifetime. Though she has a younger sister, the Hacks actor grew up always wanting an older sibling. Acting alongside Chao then became the perfect outlet for Liu to live out her childhood fantasy of being the bratty little sister.

    “I think it was also the immigrant experience, too, of feeling very much like we were the only nuclear family that left China and wanting someone else that was my age I can commiserate with,” Liu shares.

    Amidst the intricate family dynamics, The Afterparty thoughtfully incorporates moments of cultural authenticity. Wu explains that she and Liu tossed in some of the Chinese dialogue. Another instance occurs in Episode 5, when a seemingly suspicious act of flower hoarding turns out to be a silly poke at Vivian’s frugality. It’s also a callback to an earlier episode, in which the matriarch expressed her desire to reuse the bouquets from the rehearsal dinner to avoid wastefulness. These small, nuanced touches add depth to the characters and are bound to resonate with Asian audiences who can appreciate the attention to detail in the story’s cultural tidbits and inside jokes.

    “I find it so refreshing to just see Asian people be in all sorts of genres,” says Liu. “With this one, it was cool that at the heart of it, it’s a comedy murder mystery, yet half of the cast is this Asian family. Then, casting who they did, of course we’re going to bring our whole selves to it and bring all the elements of who we are to the table as well.”

    New episodes of The Afterparty drop every Wednesday on Apple TV+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Dianna Shen is a TV Writer at Primetimer based in New York. Her work has been featured in Paste Magazine and Decider, among other outlets.

    TOPICS: The Afterparty, Apple TV+, Anna Konkle, Chris Miller (showrunner), Elizabeth Perkins, Jack Whitehall, John Cho, Ken Jeong, Phil Lord, Poppy Liu, Vivian Wu, Zach Woods, Zoe Chao