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Apple TV+'s The Afterparty is like The Fast and the Furious of mystery comedies

  • "From one angle, Apple TV+’s The Afterparty feels like a glorified storytelling exercise: It’s a murder mystery that unfolds over eight episodes, each styled in a different genre to match the perspective of a different character," says Angie Han. "From another, it’s just a good time — a half-hour-ish comedy that plays with familiar TV and movie tropes, without taking any of them, or itself, too seriously. As its characters will keep reminding you, it all depends on how you look at it...The Afterparty is stuffed with actors who tend to be the funniest parts of whatever project they’re in, but who meld together here as the ensemble of a comedy geek’s dreams. Sam Richardson stars as sweet nerd Aniq, for whom the night seemed to be developing like a rom-com, at least until the whole murder part. For Brett (Ike Barinholtz), it’s a Fast and the Furious­-style actioner, down to gravelly pronouncements about the importance of family."


    • It's setup is not very original, but The Afterparty is a good time with its star-studded cast: "It’s Agatha Christie via the Clue movie—an old murder-mystery format that got its latest A-list makeover in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out," says Judy Berman. "(The Afterparty also calls to mind last year’s Hulu hit Only Murders in the Building, a quieter but similarly lighthearted streaming crime comedy built around charismatic leads.) Miller, who’s known for collaborating with Phil Lord on innovative franchise fare like The LEGO Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, also leans hard on his cast of comic actors. From Early and Barinholtz to Schwartz, Glazer and Demetriou, these are some of the funniest people on TV, and it’s a treat just to watch them play off of one another. As the cop whose investigation gives the show its structure, Haddish strikes a balance between eccentricity and insight. Casting aside, the smartest choice Miller makes is to keep switching up the show’s genre and look."
    • Sam Richardson stands out in what is a comedy acting showcase: Making every character tackle a different genre is a clever challenge of a premise, especially as Miller gets more specific with his directing," says Caroline Framke. "It’s hard to say exactly how successful the show’s many clues and misdirections are as a whole without seeing its final revealing chapter (Apple provided 7 out of the series’ total 8 episodes for review), but the mystery’s at least fun to unpack along the way as each character lets slip something new. And for as much as the format trickery forms the spine of The Afterparty, the show becomes more intriguing and much funnier than it might’ve been thanks to the sharp actors embodying each different genre. Haddish, for example, finds every ounce of comedy in her character’s expository role and eventual solo procedural episode, while sitcom stalwart Ben Schwartz brings his reliable brand of scrappy earnestness to a musical episode that’s fun, but could’ve used a bit more tuning up." But it is Richardson who shines since he has to give several distinct performances at once. "It’s not shocking that Richardson would end up the standout here, since his résumé of stealing comedy scenes in an instant is one of the more impressive in recent memory (see: Veep, Ted Lasso, I Think You Should Leave, etc. and so on)," says Caroline Framke. "The Afterparty just proves that Richardson both deserves more leading roles and could handle them in just about any genre, besides. If anyone in Hollywood wants their projects to stand out, they’ll be smart to give Richardson more chances to do exactly that."
    • The Afterparty's Rashomon wrinkle high-school reunion backdrop feels overused: "Indeed, Fox tried almost the exact the same premise with the 2005 drama Reunion, which didn't last long enough to finish the story," says Brian Lowry. "So while Apple is promoting the show as 'genre-defying,' it's really more 'genre-embracing.' Haddish also seems to be working a little too hard at wringing humor from what could easily be a straight-arrow part, which frankly proves a bit of a distraction from the focus on the victim, his peers and getting to the truth of who murdered him."
    • The Afterparty is exceedingly delightful: "Films and television series in which the conflicting views of unreliable narrators are juxtaposed — and memory makes unreliable narrators of us all — are not new," says Robert Lloyd. "Nor are those in which multiple threads intersect, adding new information to what we think we know, revealing something that seemed important as incidental, something incidental as crucial, or in which different filmic styles are used within the same piece to frame a story. They’ve been the engine of comedies and dramas, high art and mass entertainments. But they’re all handled adroitly here, notwithstanding the odd nonsensical cog thrown in to make the bigger wheels turn. And a high school reunion, in which people are already putting on false fronts, telling half-truths, is a perfect setting for this sort of tale. But The Afterparty is actually quite knowing about missed opportunities, second chances, the way that a word in the right place, or the lack of a word at the right time, might change a life for better or worse, and accidents that take on the mantle of fate."
    • With The Afterparty, the two-man team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller makes a triumphant return to TV: "At a time when the concept-driven comedies that define Lord and Miller’s signature style have trouble earning a theatrical release, The Afterparty embraces the expanded canvas of an episodic series—and the beefed-up budget that comes with a massive tech company as their distributor," says Alison Herman. "To start, The Afterparty seems to have a relatively simple setup; the only real hint of its ambition is the star-studded cast, a constellation of comedic heavyweights ranging from Tiffany Haddish to Sam Richardson to Ilana Glazer. It’s only once the show moves past the pilot, its longest and weakest episode, that The Afterparty reveals what it’s really up to."
    • Don't expect The Afterparty to be a laugh riot from beginning to end: "The Afterparty is not really that — not because it’s trying and failing at gut-busting comedy, but because it’s only vaguely interested in the concept," says Alan Sepinwall. "It’s a murder-mystery parody, yes, but its primary focus is on playing with perspective and genre, resulting in a clever and charming ride that frequently serves up fun surprises." He adds: "If The Afterparty sometimes stumbles as it hops from genre to genre, the more fundamental Rashomon concept works quite well at illustrating how easily we all get lost in our own heads."
    • The Afterparty is a slick showcase of sweeping talent: "There’s ambition for ambition’s sake and then there’s ambition by design," says Ben Travers. "The Afterparty — an eight-episode comedic murder-mystery where each episode is not only told from a different character’s perspective, but in a distinct genre befitting each person’s particular story — is 100 percent the latter. Created by Chris Miller (who also directs every episode) and written by Miller, his long-time creative partner Phil Lord, and a talented staff, the Apple TV+ limited series puts its creative team to great use, building out an engaging, ongoing whodunit with striking individual pieces, including rom-com, musical, and animated episodes. But rather than limit their eclectic talent exhibition to what the production staff can do behind the camera, Miller & Co. enlist an enviable cast of comedians to flex more than just their chuckle muscles onscreen."
    • The best part of The Afterparty doesn’t lie in genre trickery: "It’s in how, with incredible economy, the show’s writers and performers build its characters out to stretch just beyond stereotype, where everyone is shaped by the things that hurt them when they were young," says Joshua Rivera. "The highs of high school loom large, but perhaps it’s the lows that shape us most — something that becomes even more apparent when we’re telling our own story. Because we are all the hero of our own story, even when that story ends in a murder."
    • The Afterparty feels strangely flat: "The Afterparty ought to be better than it is. In theory, Apple TV+’s comic murder-mystery about a high school reunion gone awry has a lot going for it," says Ed Cumming. "It has an Apple budget. Its creators are Chris Miller and Phil Lord, who previously gave us the brilliant The Lego Movie. It has a cast of superior comic actors. How does something with such sparky potential come to feel so strangely flat?...While its cast are generally likeable, and there’s a certain freshness about its commitment to being two things at once, too often it isn’t amusing enough to be enjoyed as pure comedy, or tense enough to be appreciated as a murder mystery. Too often it relies on basic puns, or sophomoric self-referentiality, to get a cheap gag rather than developing more complicated ones."
    • The Afterparty is a little overdone, a little overlong and lacking the touch of ruthlessness that would have made it excellent: "The Afterparty is one of those 'oh, it’s them from that thing' shows, packed to the gills with comedy stars who have appeared in better series or films. Originally conceived as a film about a high school reunion by Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street creators Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, it has been transformed into an eight-part murder mystery, with each episode adopting a different genre depending on the character we are following. Tiffany Haddish plays Danner, the detective who puts herself in charge of investigating the crime. Smart and starry? What could go wrong? Not much, as it turns out, but its fundamental decent-ness is to its detriment." Nicholson adds that The Afterparty is "watchable, not least because we won’t find out who the culprit is until the final episode, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in guessing which genre each character will find themselves embroiled in. Stath Lets Flats’ Jamie Demetriou has a small role as running gag Walt, whom nobody can remember, and Broad City’s Ilana Glazer is Chelsea, the former queen bee who had 'a total breakdown' and is acting erratically. This is enjoyable, steady, perfectly fine. But it is also classic prestige streaming service television, in that it is a little overdone, a little overlong and lacking the touch of ruthlessness that would have made it excellent."
    • The Afterparty is bingeable, but not laugh-out-loud funny: "There are too many drab lines like 'get the cornstarch, the plot thickens,'" says Bob Strauss. "Running 'diarrhea'-spelling jokes are typical of the show’s puerile red herrings. Nevertheless, each actor has their flights of verbal dexterity, and there are enough satiric undercurrents to keep us smiling. This is the rare show, though, that gets the most entertainment value out of its formal elements. Musical and animated gags are particularly well-executed, with canny lighting cues and hair, makeup and costume variations throughout. In both subtle and outrageous ways, The Afterparty is an enjoyable act of doing the same thing over as differently as possible — as best as you can get away with it."
    • The Afterparty is a must-watch whodunit for movie nerds: "Beyond being hilarious, The Afterparty offers a novel structure that mixes Hollywood blockbuster sensibilities with the 'Rashomon effect,'" says Adam Rosenberg, adding: "The genre-centric flashbacks peel back surface impressions to reveal the inner workings of each protagonist. And because every character has a role to play in their classmates' stories, we develop an increasingly complex understanding of The Afterparty's spread of personalities as the eight-episode season unfolds. Building character development through different firsthand perspectives is a genius approach. It makes sweet, lovable, and kinda corny Aniq just as likely a murder suspect as Brett, or Yasper, or anyone else. Even the kindest person you know is someone's enemy, and that dichotomy is what makes this mystery tick."
    • Tiffany Haddish was allowed to improvise: "Yeah, they let me add icing on the cake," she says. "Like, I brought these cute little trinkets to the interrogations to make the suspects feel more comfortable. In one scene, Ike (Barinholtz, who plays a suspect) and I were messing around, and I was really getting mad at him for talking mess about Steve Urkel, who I had a crush on. And that’s in the show."
    • The Afterparty creator Christopher Miller originally envisioned it in 2010 as a film inspired by Rashomon and Clue: In 2019, he revised the story to fit an episodic TV format and enlisted longtime collaborator Phil Lord as executive producer and director. "We’re always trying to take a story and figure out how to make it something new and add something to the conversation," says Miller. "We follow that story to where it wants to be its best self." Lord adds: "It’s like making a bespoke thing. I always like receiving a gift from filmmakers, something physical that’s had that level of attention, as opposed to something that feels clean and manufactured. The trick with this stuff is that it’s mass entertainment, but you never want it to feel mass-produced."

    TOPICS: The Afterparty, Apple TV+, Chris Miller, Phil Lord, Tiffany Haddish