Apple+’s The Afterparty joins a burgeoning, newish subgenre of mystery-comedies. Like the shows it resembles (The Flight Attendant and Only Murders in the Building immediately leap to mind), The Afterparty tends to sacrifice realistic plot on the altar of its zany shenanigans, but it does so with clever, inventive energy. Additional angles make The Afterparty even more high-concept: it gleefully fuses Rashomon-like structure with a Community-esque verve for episodic pastiche. If the results aren’t always seamless, they’re ambitious, winning, and wildly fun.
In the wealthy suburbs of San Francisco, a shocking murder occurs at a high-school reunion afterparty, where absurd, narcissistic celebrity Xavier (an inspired Dave Franco) falls from the balcony of his Marin County mansion to his death. Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish), the first cop on the scene, quickly deduces that the murderer is likely one of Xavier’s former classmates, still in the house. Defying orders, Danner takes lead on the case and resolves to crack it before the department favorite arrives, but she has rather unorthodox interviewing methods, which she uses to conversationally grill the suspects – starting with the most likely culprit, nerdy escape room designer Aniq (Sam Richardson), who had a beef with Xavier and was seen angrily on his way to confront him right before the fall. As the interviews progress, however, it quickly becomes clear that while the guests’ perspectives on the evening are vastly different, there’s a common theme: everyone had a motive for killing Xavier. As Danner systematically churns through the suspects, Aniq and his buddy Yasper (Ben Schwartz) labor to listen in on the interviews, hoping to uncover enough evidence to clear Aniq’s name.
It’s almost enough to recommend The Afterparty for Sam Richardson alone. Aniq is the essential protagonist, and Richardson is in brilliant form, especially in his banter-heavy scenes with the ever-vivacious Schwarz. Richardson may well have been the funniest actor on Veep, and that’s against stiff competition; it’s great to see him receive such an exceptional showcase. Even so, the real star of The Afterparty is the conceptual approach: each interviewee’s subjective story is told in a different genre, to match their character. The first, Aniq’s, is a romantic comedy, as he awkwardly tries to use the reunion as a second chance to connect with his “girl who got away,” Zoë (Zoë Chao). The second features Zoë’s asshole ex Brett (Ike Barinholtz), in a send-up of The Fast and the Furious. The third is a Crazy Ex-style musical for Yasper, and so forth. Each episode shifts the comedy into a different gear, while Haddish’s “social-dynamic-type” interviews – ably abetted by John Early, cast way against type as a homicide cop named Culp – help maintain a certain tonal consistency across the season. With every installment laboring to be a “concept episode,” the results are understandably uneven, but collectively they’re highly bingeable and diverting. My favorite episode may be a flashback outing told from the point of view of poor Walt (Jamie Demetriou), a generic member of the class who keeps falling off of everyone’s radar. (Demetriou deserves a special commendation, incidentally, for doing the impossible: brilliantly stealing every scene despite playing a character whose sole characteristic is how forgettable he is.) This episode impressively mixes performances, costumes, makeup, and CGI (surely, right?) to “youthify” the entire cast in a teen comedy riff on the American Pie franchise.
It’s difficult not to get jarred out by certain procedural logistics in The Afterparty that don’t just strain credulity, but violently dislocate it. For all Danner’s puzzle-solving acumen, for example, she and Culp are woefully inept detectives, which while often hilarious is also frequently distracting, especially in the early episodes as the show finds its tonal footing. And for all the deceptive hugger-mugger of the Agatha Christie final gathering, the murderer is ultimately easy to guess. But overall, The Afterparty makes effective use of a stellar comic cast as it executes its audacious, lively concept.