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Apple TV+'s Murder Comedy The Afterparty Embraces a Playful, Imperfect Formula

“The Afterparty” wasn’t just a big hit for Apple TV+ when it premiered in 2022; it was the crystallization of an impressive but imperfect new comedic formula. Once again, creators Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (but mostly writer/director Miller) had cracked a storytelling mystery: How to make a winking comedy series based on genres, tropes, and human behavior without being stuck to one mode? Pack it all into an ensemble whodunit. Everyone gets to be the main character of their own story, and each character gets an episode where genre is inspired by their sense of self. It’s a mischievous mix, and again it has made for punchy, character-focused episodes. 

That formula returns with even more star power, twists, jokes, and episodes in this second season, which begins today on Apple TV+. This season features, in no particular order, a bunch of clever filmmaking send-ups: a shot-for-shot Wes Anderson parody, a TikTok-ready found footage comedy built from stream of consciousness; a noir film with soft lighting and hardcore conspiracy theories, a courtship tale with Jane Austen-ready formalities, and more. But the reason we keep returning to it all—the who-did-it—can be pushed too far out of center focus. More on that later. 

Season Two takes place on a wedding weekend, in which our adorkable underdog Aniq (Sam Richardson) and his now-girlfriend Zoe (Zoe Chao) are caught up in another murder mystery. The deceased is wealthy crypto-weirdo Edgar (Zach Woods), whose dead body is discovered by his new bride Grace (Poppy Liu), Zoe’s sister. Also, Edgar’s beloved gecko Roxana is dead. The suspects include Hannah, Edgar’s sister by adoption (Anna Konkle); Ulysses (John Cho), Zoe’s world-traveled “funcle” who shows up on horseback; Zoe’s mysterious mother Vivian (Vivian Wu); Edgar’s mother Isabel (Elizabeth Perkins); Jack Whitehall’s snooty Sebastian, Edgar’s former business partner; Zoe’s father Feng (Ken Jeong), who runs a baobing company; Travis (Paul Walter Hauser), a delusional ex of Grace’s. 

Tiffany Haddish returns to investigate as Officer Danner, to add commentary and levity on top of more levity, while getting another episode that can be just indulgent as in the previous season (but considering how it has her hamming it up with an erotic thriller starring Paul Scheer and Michael Ealy, it’s pretty funny all on its own). Overall, the ensemble is an excellent batch of actors who can bend to different forms (as they appear in each other’s worlds) while staying sincere to their core psychology. “The Afterparty” proves how many of its stars (like Cho, Walter Hauser, Konkle, and Perkins in particular) can do it all. 

The writing makes a larger effort to be less contained than the second season, with Aniq & Danner and Zoe & Grace enacting their own frantic investigations, creating more comparable momentum. This sequel, which has the likes of Anu Valia, Eric Appel, and Peter Atencio directing in place of season one’s Miller, moves a little faster in comparison and has even more twists. But in the plainer game of which one's funnier, Season One had more laugh-out-loud moments that made me want to exclaim, "How great is this party?!" 

Having family secrets adds to juicier backstories than last season, and complicates the possible motivations for Edgar's demise. But by structure, it’s all just too drawn out or indulgent for the exciting juggling act that comes with an ensemble whodunit. It's "Clue," not "Monopoly." Across its 35-minute character studies, "The Afterparty" is prone to spend a lot of time with details that read as simply extraneous or actually are. Yes, we get to see Cho dance his heart out in the process, enjoy Konkle dead-panning like the best of them, and savor Walter Hauser's loving flipside of "Richard Jewell." And yet the show’s collective charisma and self-amusement can only create so much intrigue in place of a delayed big reveal. 

But taken in total, as a binge for after a party, it’s still plenty of fun. “The Afterparty” splits the difference between a hard-labored production (all of those costume styles, those intersecting storylines!) that’s meant to be viewed as light comedy. It’s a lot like Apple TV+’s musical series “Schmigadoon!” in that way, which is a good, cozy quality. “The Afterparty” is also putting on a show, and each kooky suspect’s spotlight is an inspired moment for the series’ sneaky, chameleonic storytellers. 

Nine episodes of Season Two were screened for review. The first three episodes of "The Afterparty" premiere on Apple TV+ on July 12. 

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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