Attending a high school reunion is like committing a murder in at least one respect: you need a compelling reason to do it. Whether it’s to show off or to reconnect with a first love or to confront a bully, everyone walks back into that fancied-up gymnasium with an agenda. In The Afterparty, an endearingly silly whodunit from creator and director Christopher Miller that comes to Apple TV+ on Jan. 28, it just so happens that someone’s high school reunion agenda is murder.
It’s at his very own afterparty for his graduating class’s 15th-anniversary shindig that the victim, sleazy pop star Xavier (Dave Franco), plunges to his death, rocketing off the terrace of his cliffside Marin County mansion and cracking his skull on the rocky beach below. Despite her boss’s orders to wait for reinforcements from L.A. and the skepticism of her sidekick (Search Party breakout star John Early), Tiffany Haddish’s quirky Detective Danner insists on starting her investigation immediately. She’s certain that after hearing every attendee’s version of the full night’s events—or, as she explains it, after they replay their “mind movies” for her—she’ll have enough information to identify the killer.
While everyone present is a suspect, most fingers initially point in the direction of nice-guy protagonist Aniq (Veep and Detroiters alum Sam Richardson), an escape room designer whose efforts to make up for lost time with his recently divorced crush Zoë (Zoë Chao from Love Life) were repeatedly interrupted by Xavier’s overtures to the class sweetheart. That flirtation gives Zoë’s angry ex, Brett (Ike Barinholtz), his own reasons to resent Xavier. But, as we discover through Danner’s questioning, just about every person at the party has a motive, from Xavier’s fame-hungry former bandmate (Ben Schwartz) to the sloppy-drunk class president turned trainwreck (Ilana Glazer) to the slightly creepy guy no one remembers (Jamie Demetriou of the British cult comedy Stath Lets Flats).
There’s nothing original about this setup. It’s Agatha Christie via the Clue movie—an old murder-mystery format that got its latest A-list makeover in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. (The Afterparty also calls to mind last year’s Hulu hit Only Murders in the Building, a quieter but similarly lighthearted streaming crime comedy built around charismatic leads.) Miller, who’s known for collaborating with Phil Lord on innovative franchise fare like The LEGO Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, also leans hard on his cast of comic actors. From Early and Barinholtz to Schwartz, Glazer and Demetriou, these are some of the funniest people on TV, and it’s a treat just to watch them play off of one another. As the cop whose investigation gives the show its structure, Haddish strikes a balance between eccentricity and insight.
Casting aside, the smartest choice Miller makes is to keep switching up the show’s genre and look. Each character’s mind movie gets its own episode, interspersed with scenes of their classmates comforting and irritating one another at Xavier’s gaudy house as the interrogation takes place. For Aniq, the reunion is a rom-com; for Brett it’s an over-the-top action movie, with people throwing punches left and right. There’s even a clever animated episode. Many of the show’s questions get their answers in a flashback to the Class of 2006’s senior year that takes the form of ’90s teen one-crazy-night comedies like Dazed and Confused and Can’t Hardly Wait.
The Afterparty is also, at heart, a one-crazy-night comedy, albeit in episodic form. The murder mystery just gives it a shape. As such, the show’s ambitions are modest. It’s not out to tease your brain or make you reflect on the criminal justice system; the plot is not what you would call complex, and Mitchell plays pretty fast and loose with the touchstones of mid-2000s teen culture. (From the ska revival to frosted tips, most of the nostalgic references point more to the late ’90s.) But within its limited lane, The Afterparty delivers. It’s pure, lively, slapstick fun—and, in the depths of January, with our third pandemic year fast approaching, who couldn’t use some of that?
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