The Afterparty review: Christopher Miller’s genre-defying murder mystery doesn’t live up to expectations

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The Apple TV+ comedy has a great
Ben Schwartz and Sam Richardson in The Afterparty (Credit: Apple TV+)Ben Schwartz and Sam Richardson in The Afterparty (Credit: Apple TV+)
Ben Schwartz and Sam Richardson in The Afterparty (Credit: Apple TV+) | Apple TV+

The Afterparty is never quite as much fun as it should be, with a cast that good and a premise that clever, but when it works it really works.

Apple TV+’s new murder mystery parody takes the idea that “everyone is the star of their own movie” and runs with it. Each suspect, the assembled guests at a high school reunion afterparty, has their own account of the events that lead to famous former classmate Xavier’s murder. Everyone remembers things a little differently, everyone puts the emphasis in different places and misses important details, everyone filters things through a different perspective – it’s the sort of Rashomon-esque storytelling that is, if not exactly commonplace, certainly an intuitive way to approach a murder mystery.

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What’s clever about The Afterparty, though, is the extra spin it puts on that idea to take things one step further: not only is everyone the star of their own movie, everyone is the star of their own genre of movie. As Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) invites suspects to give their alibis, The Afterparty twists and turns into new shapes, each week reinventing itself to tell the same story in a new way. The first episode is a romcom (with a brief cutaway to a black and white Swedish arthouse style recollection), the second is a big action movie, the third is a musical with carefully choreographed song and dance sequences, and so on and so forth.

Immediately, there’s something irresistible about that idea. It’s a fantastic premise, a clever way to blend together different genre parodies into one; not just an opportunity for any cast or director to have a lot of fun and flex different performing muscles in a way they often wouldn’t, but also a way to comment on and find a new way to engage with each genre. The Afterparty was created (and each episode directed by) Christopher Miller, who with his creative partner Phil Lord has worked on self-aware projects like The Lego Movie and Into the Spiderverse – the former better than it had any right to be, the latter the rare fresh take on the superhero movie, both because of the almost deconstructionist approach they take.

The Afterparty seems like an embrace of that genre-aware sensibility, and bringing together a cast who are usually individually the funniest part of whatever they’re in, it was like the first big comedy of 2022 to look out for – but it never quite clicks the way you’d hope it might.

Ben Schwartz as Yasper in The Afterparty  (Credit: Apple TV+)Ben Schwartz as Yasper in The Afterparty  (Credit: Apple TV+)
Ben Schwartz as Yasper in The Afterparty (Credit: Apple TV+) | Apple TV+

It might just be that The Afterparty – maybe fittingly for a show that centres on a high school reunion – was damned by the weight of expectation. There’s a danger that this review will read too negative, and a faint disappointment at not-quite-fulfilled potential will come across instead like scathing criticism.

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The Afterparty works best when it imitates genres that are bigger, broader, more well-defined, and not every genre it takes on lends itself to parody (or this particular parody at least) as well as the others do. The musical is fantastic; the Fast and the Furious-esque action movie feels less a little thin; the psychological thriller never quite commits as much as you’d hope; the flashback episode, styled like a lost instalment of The OC (complete with 30-something actors playing teenagers), is sublime. At times, actually, The Afterparty feels like one of those rare shows that might actually function better as a binge-watch – it’s easier to appreciate some of the subtler differences between each retelling when you can compare them more immediately, and the slightly weaker instalments are softened when they don’t have to stand alone.

You get the sense maybe that Miller was just more interested in some of the genres compared to others, or maybe had a stronger handle on how to evoke them – it’s clear he’s having a huge amount of fun with the musical, for example, but often it’s hard not to wish the paranoia thriller was pushed further than just a different aspect ratio. The Afterparty makes for an interesting contrast, actually, to Kristen Bell’s The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window, which is out on Netflix on the same day. That series takes a similar approach, parodying domestic psychological thrillers, but it commits to it much moreso than The Afterparty ever really does. They’re different projects with different aims, of course, but it’s not always a flatting comparison for The Afterparty.

What does consistently work about the show – and the big reason it’s still worth watching – is the cast. They very much do live up to expectations, always exactly as good as you’d hope; they each pitch their performances slightly differently each week, letting those subtle differences in perspective inform the characters and how we understand them. (The matchups between character and genre are often quite clever too – Ilana Glazer’s post-breakdown former valedictorian in a paranoia piece is inspired on – which adds again to that wish the direction pushed things a little further.) Ike Barinholtz does a lot of nice work with Brett, arrogant and bullish in most episodes but sensitive and vulnerable in his own; Jamie Demetriou is quietly very funny, his big physical comedy from Stath Lets Flats pushed intentionally to the margins; Sam Richardson and Zoe Chao are the spine of the series, their sweet fumbling romance present across each episode, and it’s a great showcase for them both.

Ultimately, The Afterparty is good but not great. It’s a 7/10 show that you can’t help but wish was a 9/10 show – it’s often very charming, and each new layer of perspective gives it a sense of momentum that means it steadily improves even if the episodes themselves can be a bit inconsistent. For all the talent involved, it should probably be better than any given episode of Community – it’s not, but if you can get over that initial disappointment there’s still some fun to be had here.

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The first three episodes of The Afterparty will be available to stream on Apple TV+ from January 28, and the series will continue weekly after that. I’ve seen seven of a total of eight episodes before writing this review.

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