Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and 21 Jump Street filmmakers Chris Miller and Phil Lord return to TV with the comedy The Afterparty. Across eight distinctly different but interconnected points of view, Tiffany Haddish’s detective must resolve a murder that occurred at a high school reunion afterparty.
In the first episode, we meet the attendees of a standard high school reunion which soon turns sour when someone winds up dead. Sam Richardson plays Aniq, the geek who never grew out of his awkwardness and his crush on divorced mother Zoe (Zoë Chao). Ike Barinholtz plays her childish ex-husband Brett, while Jamie Demetriou is the barely noticed Walt, Ben Schwartz is the exuberant Yasper and Ilana Glazer the troubled Chelsea. At the centre of the plot is Dave Franco’s Xavier, a pompous rockstar who is found dead at the reunion afterparty. The question is, who pushed him from the roof?
Each episode explores a different character’s account of what happened that fateful evening, using different creative mediums and genres to learn the different viewpoints of our protagonists. When Yasper tells the cops his version of events, it becomes a colourful musical whilst Zoe’s is animated to convey her inner turmoil, and Brett explains his like it’s a Bruce Willis action movie.
As expected with this experimental format, episodes are hit or miss. Schwartz’ colourful, musical extravaganza is a season highlight. With catchy songs and big dance numbers, he is effortlessly charismatic. His relationship with Aniq, holds together this ensemble comedy with the only real chemistry. Many other crushes, marriages, and friendships don’t appear believable, mostly due to the one-dimension characters and stereotypes.
The episode that entirely centres around the group’s last days at high school is the type of smart, well-executed slice of comedy-drama you’d expect from the pedigree of The Afterparty. Taking place at a house party, it lets audiences understand exactly who these people are and how they relate to each other. It shows how people fell out, how they got together and why one of them might have killed Xavier. With early 2000’s appropriate baggy jeans and bleached tips, a soundtrack of dated pop-punk and the idea that playing Shaggy is the height of romance, this flashback is the type of cringe comedy you want from a show about high school reunions.
These flashbacks should have been weaved throughout the entire show, letting us really get a better grip on the ensemble. There are too many characters, including named and unnamed people, who may or may not be relevant to the murder mystery plot. It can be difficult for audiences to get a good grasp on all the players and where they slot into this world.
This cast has some of the best working actors in modern comedy, yet most of them are severely underused. Stath Lets Flat star Jamie Demetriou is just one of the stars whose awkward comedy persona is used to play the cliché higher schooler no one ever noticed. Broad City’s Ilana Glazer’s Fleabag-type tragic woman is a one-dimensional use of a talented comedic actresses’ natural skillset. It’s not difficult to be disappointed in the final result after looking at this cast list.
While it will elicit a chuckle or two, The Afterparty relies too much on stereotypes and your existing attachment to the actors. Despite a clever premise, it’s let down by weak writing and an overreliance on experimental storytelling devices.
The Afterparty premiers on Apple TV+ on January 28th
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy