A cast of very funny people gathered to produce Apple TV+’s newest high-profile original, a mystery/comedy called “The Afterparty,” from creator Christopher Miller, one half the Lord & Miller duo that gave the world “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “The LEGO Movie,” and “21 Jump Street” (as well as producing “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse”). The best aspects of this eight-episode series play to the strengths of their cast, giving some incredibly talented comedians a chance to flex their muscles. Given that A-list talent, it’s not as consistently funny as one might expect, but there’s simple joy in watching these people do what they do so well on a program that’s buoyant, funny, and engaging. Add in a murder mystery, and it feels like a show that could be a true breakout for the streaming giant that’s looking for more comedy buzz than just “Ted Lasso.”
“The Afterparty” opens with the death of a pop star/actor named Xavier (Dave Franco), who plummets from a cliff overlooking an ocean. Did he fall by accident? The responding officers Danner (Tiffany Haddish) and Culp (John Early)—and what great “cop show” names—decide quickly that this was no slip and fall. Xavier was murdered. And he was done in by someone at the party above where his life came to an end. With a sort of “Death on the Nile” vibe by way of Noel Coward comedy of errors, “The Afterparty” unfolds in a matching present-day and flashback structure that allows a different character and actor to take focus each episode.
As Danner and Culp interrogate the party-goers, none of whom are allowed to leave until they have their suspect, it’s revealed that the event was a continuation of a high school reunion. Xavier was the most famous guest, but the show really centers Aniq (Sam Richardson) as he tries to build up the courage to profess his unrequited love for his high school crush Zoe (Zoe Chao) and solve the case himself. His closest ally is the gregarious Yasper (Ben Schwartz), a goofball who wanted Xavier to bless his track and launch his own career as a musician. Aniq leads the first episode and Yasper the third, with the obnoxious Brett (Ike Barinholtz), Zoe’s ex-husband, in the middle chapter. Each episode has a different tone that reflects the character its profiling, which is a clever twist. It’s not just different versions of the same events as much as episodes that take on the character’s personalities. Aniq’s chapter has the nervous energy that Richardson is so good at capturing while Yasper’s has full musical numbers with complex choreography that allows Schwartz to go off.
Some of the performers get short shrift—Ilana Glazer isn’t given nearly enough to do and Chao’s half-animated episode seems a little cutesy—but the plotting on “The Afterparty” has the breakneck rhythm of a Lord/Miller project in that none of the flaws linger long enough to be fatal. It’s like attending a murder mystery party with some of the best TV comedians out there, watching them riff off each other’s energy as a legitimately engaging mystery unfolds. There are times when the writing doesn’t feel up to the talent of the cast, but they do so much to overcome that it doesn’t matter in the end. It’s a party that’s made better by the people who were invited to it. You should RSVP.
Seven episodes screened for review.