This review originally published January 18th, 2022
The murder mystery might be one of the most formulaic genres in pop culture, but it’s also the most versatile, able to bend itself into whatever shape a story requires. It can be atmospheric and moody, full of humor and hijinks, or tense and thrilling. In the hands of creator and director Christopher Miller, Apple TV+’s The Afterparty takes this versatility and runs with it, creating one of the most entertaining shows of the young new year.
The eight-episode series—which is executive produced by Miller and his filmmaking partner Phil Lord—follows the investigation of a murder that occurs at a high school reunion afterparty. Although it’s a comedy that gleefully operates within the framework of a mystery, each episode is a retelling of the night’s events as viewed through the lens of a different popular film genre that corresponds to the perspective and personality of the person being interrogated. It adds a fun twist to a familiar scenario, and as each classmate chronicles their evening, they reveal not just who they are, but what interests and drives them, and what might have motivated them to kill Xavier (Dave Franco), the famous musician-actor classmate whose death kicks off the show.
For instance, Sam Richardson’s Aniq has a crush on Zoë Chao’s Zoe, and as he recounts his night to Tiffany Haddish’s eager but suspicious detective, the premiere takes on the tropes and filmmaking style of a heartfelt romantic comedy, with Xavier playing the role of the other man who catches Zoe’s eye. When it’s Yasper’s (Ben Schwartz) turn, the show becomes a flashy movie musical because he dreams of being a musician and hopes Xavier will bless one of his tracks. However, the other man keeps blowing him off. Meanwhile, Ike Barinholtz’s Brett sees himself as the hero in an action flick, Ilana Glazer’s Chelsea is trapped in a psychological thriller after receiving threatening texts from someone at the reunion, and so on and so forth.
Haddish’s Detective Danner is the constant around which all these strange personalities revolve, at once a grounded foil and an eager and willing audience for their stories. She’s the first detective on the scene and is determined to solve the case before Germain—a hotshot detective from Los Angeles portrayed by Reid Scott (who nails smarmy douche with ease after seven seasons on Veep)—-can arrive and take over. This puts a clock on the investigation, but one that creates very few tangible stakes through the seven episodes available for review. The condensed timeline matters only to Danner, who is out to prove herself after a case in L.A. that was badly mishandled by a police force full of white men who were willfully ignorant at best, and totally corrupt at worst. Haddish naturally nails every beat.
Although the humor of The Afterparty can be silly and sophomoric as it pokes fun at the tropes of the murder mystery genre (there’s a running joke involving Aniq asking everyone to write the word “diarrhea” so he can compare handwriting samples in order to identify the killer and clear his name), there’s an almost embarrassing level of comedic talent both behind the scenes and on screen. It makes the show an exceptionally fun escape. If there’s one flaw in its design, though, it’s that Xavier’s death has little to no emotional effect on these characters and thus the audience. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve a purpose.
For instance, none of these people are actually friends with Xavier. The only reason they’re at his house at all is because they want something from him, whether it’s as simple as having a little fun after going through a divorce or to exact revenge for something Xavier did in high school. But a reunion is the perfect setting for reflection as it naturally forces people to look backward, much in the same way that death makes us consider the finite nature of the future. Combining the two elements here creates an environment rich for examination of the past—in this case, the events that happened in high school that set these characters on their respective paths and potentially led to one of them committing murder—and contemplation of the present and the future as they pertain to the possibility of second chances. Xavier’s death, while not emotionally triggering for these people, opens up pathways for everyone to better understand who they are and what they want, as well as how perception plays a role in their lives.
The Afterparty is not terribly deep though—this isn’t The Affair, and the show isn’t interested in mining each character’s perspective for mind-blowing, world-shattering truths. It’s here to have a good time, crack jokes, reveal secrets, and solve the murder of a man whom no one seems to care much for or even know all that well, but who touched their lives because of a shared past. The show makes excellent use of physical comedy and visual gags throughout its run, and the scripts are filled with lighthearted shenanigans that at times feel reminiscent of Psych, the long-running USA series that also experimented with style and excelled at bringing humor to the murder mystery genre while examining its lead’s arrested development.
With that in mind, The Afterparty joins a growing list of recent comedic murder mysteries. The show follows in the footsteps of Rian Johnson’s popular 2019 whodunnit Knives Out, soon to get the sequel treatment by Netflix, as well as Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, a pitch-perfect send-up of the true crime genre. The Afterparty has more in common structurally and narratively with the former than it does the latter, but like both, there exists a possibility for The Afterparty to continue. Apple TV+ did not send the finale in advance, so we still don’t know who killed Xavier, but Haddish’s detective could easily anchor another season, even if the genre-hopping gimmick might lose some of its sparkle if repeated too much. No matter what’s in store for the future, though, The Afterparty is a good time and an excellent way to spend the next several weeks.
The Afterparty premieres with three episodes on Friday, January 28 on Apple TV+, followed by one episode weekly.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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