Friday, January 28, 2022

The Afterparty on Apple TV

Usually, in movies or TV, high school reunions are either the setting for slasher horror (Mostly Likely to Die, etc.) or super-awkward cringe comedy (D Train and so forth). These partiers returning for their fifteen-year get off easy, because there is only one dead body, at least for most of the show (granted, the cops “lose” a suspect or two, but they are dumb enough to simply misplace them). Unfortunately, poor Aniq will suffer all sorts of comedic indignities. He also finds himself the prime suspect in creator-director Christopher Miller’s The Afterparty, which premieres today on Apple TV+.

Everyone is excited to see the Vanilla Ice-ish rapper and actor “Xavier” at the reunion, even though they all hated him in school, when he was known as Eugene. Nice but nebbish Aniq is the exception, for reasons that will be revealed over time. However, still attends, in hopes of re-connecting with Zoe, his former lab-partner and eternal crush. Rather inconveniently, suspicion immediately falls on him when someone pitches Xavier over the edge of his Hollywood Hills mansion, to his death below.

Regrettably, Aniq was passed out for most of the night and when he woke up, he immediately started shouting incriminating threats towards Xavier, who would take his swan dive shortly thereafter. Det. Danner and her bumbling partner, Det. Culp immediately key-in on him, but at least they go to the trouble of getting the other guests’ statements, which collectively paint a
Rashomon-ish picture of the night.

Everyone is comparing
Afterparty to Only Murders in the Building, but it is far less neurotic, because how could it not be. It also has its own peculiar charm. Although Aniq is ostensibly a straight-man-like character, Sam Richardson (who played a similar personality-type in Werewolves Within) gets a surprising share of the laughs with his deadpan responses. He has appealing maybe-yes-maybe-no romantic chemistry with Zoe Chao, as her namesake, and also nicely riffs along with manic Ben Schwartz, playing his goofball friend (and failed musician) Yasper.

Based on the seven episodes (out of eight) available for review, it seems Miller and his co-writers were undecided whether Danner is dumb-as-a-post or crazy-like-a-fox. Weirdly, Tiffany Haddish’s loud bull-in-a-china-shop portrayal maintains that uncertainty, which is arguably a real trick. In contrast, the totally on-point Ilana Grazer is scathingly acerbic as the boozy, scandal-tarred Chelsea (think of her like Juliette Lewis in
Yellowjackets, but without the shotgun).

Ike Barinholtz somewhat humanizes Zao’s meathead ex-husband Brett, without stinting on the outrageously caddish behavior. However, nobody goes more over the top, in the right way, than Dave Franco. He gorges on the scenery as the pompous Xavier, who is often seen in flashbacks, always to great comedic effect.

Miller and company keep the energy-level high and the jokes flying. They occasionally try a little too hard, like staging Yasper’s flashback as a musical, but some of their risks pay-off, notably including Zoe’s animated flashback. It is all pretty funny and the murder mystery business does not insult our intelligence. Recommended for mystery fans in the mood for some genre comedy that wears well over the course of the series,
The Afterparty starts streaming today (1/28) on Apple TV+.