On 'The Afterparty,' a high school reunion really can kill you
The pitch for the Apple TV+ series The Afterparty is persuasive. It's an all-star cast of comedy MVPs doing a murder mystery under the guidance of Christopher Miller, whose bona fides go all the way back to Clone High. And while it doesn't quite meet the expectations that pitch might create, it's a lot of fun anyway.
Here's a partial cast list: Tiffany Haddish, Ben Schwartz, Sam Richardson, John Early, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer, Tiya Sircar — and those are just the people with powerful comedy résumés. There are also sharp performances from Zoe Chao (Love Life) and Genevieve Angelson (Good Girls Revolt). (Dave Franco is in it being extremely ... Dave Franco-ish, and you can feel about that as you wish.)
The setup is that on the night of his high school reunion, a wealthy and successful sleazeball named Xavier (Franco) invites his classmates back to his house, and he ends up dead. A cop named Danner (Haddish) — accompanied by her colleague Culp (Early) — descends on the house and keeps everybody there while she gets each participant's version of what happened: Aniq (Richardson), the affable nerd; Yasper (Schwartz), Aniq's eager, somewhat insufferable BFF; Brett (Barinholtz), the high school cool guy whose swagger has soured with age; Zoe (Chao), Brett's ex-wife who kinda regrets picking him when she was a teenager; and Chelsea (Glazer), the "weird girl" who lingers in corners while people wonder about her.
The other conceptual hook is that, in addition to each episode representing a different person's version of the evening, each is made according to the conventions of a different genre. Aniq's story is a romcom, Yasper's is a musical, and so on. In some cases, these genre takes are pretty pronounced — one episode is animated, for instance, and musical numbers do tend to stand out. But in other episodes, like Brett's action-movie story, there's a little less of this conceptual stuff, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it helps the series all hang together.
What the show isn't, particularly, is uproariously funny. It's fun, and it's clever, but it's more gently funny than you might expect. There's a fair amount of warmth, in fact, toward all these weirdos and their hangups, even though, presumably, one of them killed somebody. It plays a little more like a wry examination of how adults remain at the mercy of their high school selves than it does like a wacky party movie or something with that vibe.
With all that said, here's the caveat I would offer: They didn't offer the final episode to critics, only the first seven out of eight. That last one is the one where it appears Danner is going to solve the case (which only makes sense). So I have no idea whether the actual solution to this mystery is (1) satisfying; (2) consistent with this tone I'm talking about; (3) annoying; (4) out of nowhere; or (5) whatever. This is a show that could easily get a lot better or worse at the last minute as it tries to pull these threads together, and there's just not a way to know. I have a guess about what might be the answer, but I have no idea whether it's correct (so I couldn't spoil it if I wanted to, which, as always, I don't).
I don't think it's a great show, but I think it's a solid show, and I grew kind of fond of these people as they told their different stories. I'm kind of rooting for all of them as the finale approaches.
Except, presumably, for one murderer.