It's like that thing where a person goes to a party, and they're pretty new to the crowd there. This person is naturally personable, but they're especially on that night — charming, interesting, funny. At some point, they break out a series of uncanny and hilarious celebrity impressions. They completely win over the other partygoevers, and as they part ways, everyone says how they can't wait to see this person at the next party. Then the next party comes, and while this "impressionist" is happy to be there, suddenly they're feeling a lot of pressure to pull off that party trick once again. It's the one thing everyone is expecting, and they'd better deliver.
When The Afterparty premiered in early 2022, its success was more than merely a party trick. Creator Christopher Miller, who is currently having a busy year with his creative partner Phil Lord on the Clone High reboot and Across the Spider-Verse, put together an eight-episode murder-mystery comedy in which each episode focused on a different character and took on a completely different genre. There was a romantic-comedy episode, a musical episode, an animated episode, and each one took on the personality of its central character. It was a clever concept that brought out the best in a cast that included Sam Richardson, Zoë Chao, Tiffany Haddish, Dave Franco, and Ben Schwartz. And while the mystery of Season 1's murder was wrapped up by the end, there was no obvious reason that The Afterparty couldn't keep the party going into a second season.
Unfortunately, The Afterparty Season 2 is weighted down with expectation, not necessarily to be as good as the first season but to deliver 10 brand new genre parodies. (Well, actually nine, since we get a rom-com sequel to kick off the season.) Only a few characters from last season are back. Aniq (Richardson) and Zoë (Chao) are now a couple, and they're attending the weekend nuptials of Zoë's sister, Grace (Poppy Liu) to aloof tech bro Edgar (Zach Woods). Edgar's family is wealthy and strange, including his disapproving, gin-swilling mother Isabel (Elizabeth Perkins), horticulturalist adopted sister Hannah (Anna Konkle), and oily family friend and business partner Sebastian (Jack Whitehall).
Zoë and Grace's parents are less dynamically drawn. Their dad Feng is played by Ken Jeong, which means he’s a Ken Jeong character, and all that implies. Their mom Vivian (Vivian Wu) is disapproving of Aniq, though her character's real arc doesn't emerge until later in the season. And finally there's Zoë and Grace's "funcle" Ulysses (John Cho), a wander-the-earth type who shows up to the wedding bearing a horn full of fermented camel's milk. This colorful cast of characters make for an ideal backdrop when Edgar turns up dead in his bed the morning after the wedding, even if Miller and the show's writers struggle to find interesting angles into all of them.
The characters who fare best are the new additions. Poppy Liu — last seen skulking around corner on Dead Ringers for reasons that were never actually articulated — makes for a great beleaguered bride. It's always fun to see Elizabeth Perkins playing someone mean and rich, and her '50s melodrama episode is incredibly well observed. Paul Walter Hauser shines as a Reddit-pilled ex of Grace's who is styled like the stereotype of a Brooklyn bartender in 2008 and whose featured episode is a very funny noir send-up of conspiracy theorists. Konkle's episode, meanwhile, is a Wes Anderson parody that is like shooting fish in a barrel, but not unpleasantly so.
Those are the good ones. Far too many of the remaining parodies are either unfocused in concept or unengaging in execution. The season becomes so overdetermined in meeting its genre requirements that the accumulation of clues to solve the murder is shoved to the back seat. Tiffany Haddish returns as Detective Danner, though she's not a cop anymore, the story behind which gets its own episode, a solid take on '90s sex thrillers. But Danner is mostly left to sit and listen to the other characters' stories. And still she fares better than Aniq and Zoë, whose new relationship goes absolutely nowhere in this new season. Aniq's characteristic awkwardness leads to some embarrassing moments in front of his would-be in-laws (he's planning to propose), but the romance that took all of Season 1 to blossom gets completely ignored in Season 2.
In The Afterparty's zeal to explore new genres, it's the comedy that suffers. The handful of funny performances are too often adrift in a baggy mystery plot. There was something zippy and exciting about the show's first season that gets stuck in the mud this time around. In this case, one party was enough.
The Afterparty Season 2 premieres July 12th on Apple TV+ with two episodes. New episodes drop weekly on Wednesdays. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Joe Reid is the senior writer 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.