Apple TV+’s Murder Mystery Spoof The Afterparty Is Not Dead Yet in Season 2

TV Reviews The Afterparty
Apple TV+’s Murder Mystery Spoof The Afterparty Is Not Dead Yet in Season 2

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a project attempting to be both a tantalizing example of a genre and a meta takedown of it must know how to embrace and enhance the stories it idolizes.

The first season of creator Christopher Miller’s Apple TV+ comedy The Afterparty was a send-up of the murder mystery trope. But it was also a conversation on fame, and if we can ever truly outrun the versions of us that we were in our formative years. The “trapped in the past” theme was so literal that it focused on Sam Richardson’s Aniq, a puzzle enthusiast and escape room designer who was stuck in a house with a bunch of people he knew from high school because he was the main suspect in the murder of their now uber-famous friend Xavier (Dave Franco). Leaning into the idea that everyone’s a hero in their own story, each episode was told in the style of a different movie theme—action for aging jock Brett (Ike Barinholtz); a musical for wannabe superstar Yasper (Ben Schwartz)—as Tiffany Haddish’s Detective Danner and others interrogated witnesses, stopped evidence tampering, and tried to solve the case.

With an all-star cast of very funny people who convincingly played characters without looking like they were in on the joke, it was a great watch with a satisfying (if predictable) ending.

The problem with the second season of The Afterparty is that (at least after viewing nine of the 10 episodes, as all but the finale were made available to the press), it’s hard to tell what it’s trying to say besides “Hey! Here are some more movie and TV genres we can get talented people to parody!” Things aren’t so stiff that rigor mortis has set in; it just seems to lack the cohesiveness and bite of the first season.

The season opens with Aniq, now with his name cleared and in a relationship with his long-time crush Zoë (Zoë Chao), ready to put last season’s bloody incident behind him. The couple is excited to spend the weekend at a fancy estate and celebrate the wedding of Zoë’s sister Grace (Poppy Liu) to the old-moneyed and standoffish Edgar (Zach Woods). Aniq is also hoping that he can use the time to get in good with Zoë’s parents, Vivian (Vivian Wu) and Feng (Ken Jeong). Instead, the disastrous weekend that already included rude hosts, lost relatives, damaged property, and unwanted guests reaches a climax when Edgar’s found dead in his bed the next morning, and Grace becomes the most likely suspect.

Before the local authorities are brought in, Aniq and Zoë call in their go-to sleuth—Haddish’s Danner, who has since left the force and is writing a tell-all about Xavier’s murder—to find the real killer.

It’s clear that the cast and crew of The Afterparty were having a lot of fun with their jobs. Paul Walter Hauser, whose bread and butter are stupid and/or scary criminals, nails it as Grace’s ex-boyfriend who fancies himself the next Philip Marlowe. John Cho, who stars as Grace and Zoë’s long-lost “funcle” Ulysses, fully embraces his inner Stanley Kowalski through a rain-soaked interpretive dance. And Elizabeth Perkins is the perfect antidote to a Hitchcock blonde as Edgar’s steely and suspicious mother Isabel. Even some of the guest stars, like Stumptown alum Michael Ealy, who shows up in a later episode as someone from Danner’s past, seem delighted to be here.

But, especially with this season’s episode order bumped up two from last season’s eight, it’s also clear that there are times when the writers were stretching. It makes sense to have the whimsy music, symmetrical framing, and tailored costume design that are ubiquitous of Wes Anderson movies for the episode centered around Edgar’s adopted sister Hannah (Anna Konkle). As does turning Grace into a modern-day Elizabeth Bennett to describe how she, a fun-loving middle class woman, found a connection with a socially awkward millionaire. But I’m not sure what the theme was for Jeong’s character’s episode, which was made to look like like it was shot largely through smartphone footage, besides “older people don’t understand social media” or “this episode will make our corporate daddies happy because actors will be holding iPhones the whole time.”

It’s also shocking how toned down some things feel. The episode centered on Edgar’s business partner Sebastian (Jack Whitehall) is a caper a la the George Clooney version of Ocean’s Eleven and yet it feels… vanilla (Not usually the adjective that comes to mind when describing the directing stylings of Steven Soderbergh). Plus, while last season saw Franco’s Xavier plummet to his death from a balcony, this season has Edgar decomposing in the next room. You have Woods, a comedic actor fully aware of how to use his body and facial expressions as reaction shots, at the ready and you don’t make more use of him in this manner?

Everyone from Knives Out’s Rian Johnson to The White Lotus’ Mike White to Only Murders in the Building’s Steve Martin and John Hoffman will tell you that we’re in a golden age of murder mysteries that love to hate on murder mysteries. On August 29, we’ll also have the Hulu drama A Murder at the End of the World, which is created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij and stars Emma Corrin as a houseguest of an eccentric billionaire who is forced to put her amateur detective skills to work once someone ends up dead.

But if none of these stories have anything unique to say, are we just killing time?

The Afterparty Season 2 premieres its first two episodes Wednesday, July 12 on Apple TV+. Subsequent episodes roll out weekly.

Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and daughter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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