With so many comedy murder mysteries out there as of late it could be easy to group them all into one. Only Murders In the Building, Poker Face, Glass Onion / Knives Out are just a few to come to mind. Add to the list AppleTV+’s The Afterparty which on the surface seems like a pretty straightforward comedy murder mystery; someone turns up dead and the rest of the series is spent sorting through an eccentric group of suspects, misdirects, and carefully planted clues to narrow down the killer. Season one of The Afterparty quickly proved there’s more to this murder mystery than meets the eye.
The series, created by the uber-talented Chris Miller (Mitchells Vs The Machines, Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse, The Lego Movie) adds a creative spin that elevates and separates it from the crowd. Each season covers one murder mystery with its own motley crew of characters, and of course everyone is a suspect. The brilliance is how we are delivered the details – each episode is dedicated to telling the happenings of the night in question from a different character’s perspective – a comedy Rashomon of sorts. That could be reason enough to watch, but Miller adds yet another layer of creativity to the mix. Every episode is also told in the style of a different genre.
Season one had an amazing comedy ensemble: Ike Barinholtz, Ben Schwartz, Sam Richardson, Tiffany Haddish and more is the setting of a high school reunion party which left a pop star dead (Dave Franco). Episode by episode we were provided reasons why every guest wanted him dead. It was a wonderful mix of colorful characters, crafty writing, and stylish genre parodies.
The second season takes a second stab at the creative murder caper, bringing back Richardson along with Zoë Chao Chao as Aniq and Zoë, who are now dating. The couple find themselves right back in the middle of another mystery while attending the wedding of Zoë’s sister, Grace (Poppy Liu), whose wealthy, peculiar, lizard loving husband Edgar (Zach Woods) turns up dead after the reception as well as his beloved Roxanne… a lizard.
Instead of calling the police Aniq reaches out to Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish reprising her role from season one) who helped crack the case in season one. While no longer a policeman she is there to listen to each suspect recount the night’s events in the most entertaining of ways. Every character’s distinct perspective is delivered in the style of a new genre, giving each episode a completely new different feel than the previous while also allowing the full cast to extend well beyond the character types which they are most associated with.
Led by another very strong performance by Sam Richardson who has been consistently funny across shows from Veep to Ted Lasso to I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson. His partner in crime is again Zoë Chao (Party Down), whose work I only discovered over the last few years, but am continually impressed with – here is no exception. The rest of the show’s talented cast is up to the challenge. Seeing Ken Jeong in a Jane Austin-esque period romance is worth your time alone. Each episode goes all out to capture the feel of the genre, the attention to detail exemplifies just how passionate Miller and company are about each one.
They playful send up the genres using their biggest tropes as springboard for laughs while casting suspicion on every house guest. Anna Konkle (who is spectacular in PEN15 and here) plays Edgar’s sister who just may be crushing on his new bride in a Wes Anderson parody so spot on it could play in between any of his films without question. The hilarious Paul Walter Hauser is a perfect fit for a wannabe sleuth who bumbles his way through the mystery for a shadowy film noir episode that I ate up. We also get treated to a rom-com, an erotic thriller, a heist episode and more fill out the remaining episodes with an assortment of directors (last season Chris Miller helmed them all.)
While it is easy to get wrapped up in the narrative and characters, don’t overlook the exhaustive art direction implemented to bring all of these genres to life. It starts with the writing and extends to the music direction, the cinematography, editing, hair, makeup and costumes. The craftsmanship is impeccable and deserves your fullest attention especially in the period pieces. They are not playing around here… as they play around on screen.
The extensive all-star cast of characters also includes John Cho as Zoë and Grace’s uncle Ulysses who has seen the world and back, Jack Whitehall as Edgar’s smarmy British business partner who has just the right put down for every occasion, Vivian Wu and Elizabeth Perkins as the mothers of the bride and groom – both of whom add more flavor to this cocktail of intrigue than first expected. All of their stories intertwine, dropping clues and red herrings with every turn, making it challenging to figure out who the killer is.
The use of the genre spoofing is The Afterparty’s biggest strength and weakness. For the cinephile it is a blast seeing the clever detail executed in every scene. At the same time, the casual viewer may not get the same mileage out of a Wes Anderson satire and could feel left feeling a little left in the dark. Depending on your taste certain genres may not mix well with all viewers, no matter how creative they are.
This is one reason the strength of the core mystery is so important, if the genre is not your cup of drugged tea, the desire will keep you locked in. I have seen nine of the ten episodes and my guess shifted with each episode. My guess is the killer is the person I least expect, though I may be wrong. OK, I have no idea and that’s the fun of it all. Overall the extension from an 8 to 10 episode season does create some pacing issues especially as some episode lengths are also expanded.
At times it feels like focus on emulating the genres was prioritized over the flow of the storytelling which adds some bloat to a few episodes. While it never drags, as a whole season one felt a bit tighter and fresher. With that said, this is still a hell of a lot of fun. The show is at its strongest when its manic energy is front and center even when contained in multiple formats of storytelling. With one episode left I am still very vested in the characters and the mystery asking myself, ‘Whodunit?’
The first two episodes of The Afterparty season two are streaming on Apple TV+ with new episodes dropping (like bodies) weekly on Wednesdays.