Photo: ‘The Afterparty’
It can be easy to forget that actors are often trained performers in different aspects, like when an actress known for her dramatic roles starts to sing and you can’t help but think “Dammit. Another thing I can’t do.” So often when we see a person with promise in one area, we limit them to believing that’s all they can do.
The new Apple TV+ show ‘The Afterparty’ makes space for performers to flex their creative muscles. It has a stellar comedic ensemble including Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, and Ben Schwartz, but what’s really amazing about it is getting to see these entertainers try on different genres while still remaining hilarious.
What Happens At The Reunion, Stays At ‘The Afterparty’
The show begins at the halting end of an exclusive afterparty of a high school reunion. The host of the party/ celebrity popstar Xavier (Dave Franco) is found dead on the rocks below his mansion. Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) knows that it was not an accident, and the perpetrator has to be someone in attendance. Suddenly Xavier’s eight classmates still at his house have become suspects in his murder investigation.
In a hurry to solve the case before an officer with a higher jurisdiction can replace her, Danner has her goal set out within the opening five minutes. This immediately sets the stage and the stakes: not only is someone dead, but there is a time crunch.
Danner tells the suspects that she wants to hear everyone’s “mind movie”. According to her, everyone sees themselves as the star of their own film and therefore the best way to put together the night’s events. What results are eight different narratives told in different genres depending on who’s being interrogated.
Beginning with sweet nerd Aniq (Sam Richardson), who sees himself as the male lead in a rom-com and hopes for a second chance with his recently divorced high school crush Zoë (Zoë Chao). “As he recounts his night to Detective Danner, Aniq stops to ask if she really wants all these sentimental details, and she assures him she does. Anything could turn out to be a case-cracking clue, but she also enjoys hearing a good story,’” said Indie Wire. She does this while literally taking out a bag of popcorn to enjoy the movie.
Helping to clear Aniq’s reputation is Yasper (Ben Schwartz), his best friend and former bandmate of Xavier. He is an aspiring musician, hoping to have his big break with the help of his famous former friend “blessing his track”. His side of the story is told in an epic, and deliriously catchy musical.
Brett (Ike Barinholtz), the former bully and Zoë’s ex-husband, views himself as a Vin Diesel in the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise type. He envisions himself in action sequences, sliding over cars and doing everything for the sake of his family.
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While the show is a comedy, it pays tribute to genres across the board, including animation, procedural cop shows, and nostalgic 90s teen movies. Part of the fun is seeing what’s next as our characters jump from homage to homage.
There are the classic components of a whodunit, but the show excels at being inventive at storytelling. Whether you appreciate a good cinematic allusion or not, each episode gives the actors a chance to not only be funny, but all the other things too. “‘The Afterparty’ is stuffed with actors who tend to be the funniest parts of whatever project they’re in, but who meld together here as the ensemble of a comedy geek’s dreams,” reviewed The Hollywood Reporter.
Genre Blending And Genre Redefining
The show is created by Christopher Miller alongside his partner Phil Lord, who are responsible for films such as ‘21 Jump Street’, ‘Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse’ and ‘The Lego Movie’. Their previous experiences in multiple formats has given them the insight and ability to masterfully pay tribute to different genres, something that requires intention and creative precision.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Miller demonstrates a confident grasp of the aesthetics that define each genre — how the camera moves in an upbeat musical versus a slick action thriller, how lighting can transform a set from romantic to spooky, even how subtle tweaks in costume can turn a twee love interest into a sexy one — and his delight in showing off the tricks of the trade signal affection, not contempt.”
Miller explained the show’s production notes his longstanding love for the murder mystery format. According to BBC, he writes, “For my whole life, I have loved watching ‘Columbo’ and ‘Murder She Wrote’, reading all the Agatha Christie books, and doing crossword puzzles, acrostics, and hidden-word things. So to be able to do a comedy version of a whodunnit has been a real dream come true.”
To make sure that all the pieces of the mystery fit together, Miller and Lord worked with magician and puzzle creator David Kwong and puzzle master Dave Shukan to coordinate the perfect crime. According to Miller, there are coded messages and extra hints hidden in each episode. ”If you’re more interested in laughs than concocting fan theories, you can feel confident in not missing anything. However, the show is also very carefully constructed, with careful overlap and conflicting accounts and motivations offering plenty to speculate over,” reviewed Polygon.
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What sets it apart is the ability to depict how perspective colors our reality. For a film nerd like me, having genre dictate character is incredibly satisfying. The beauty lies not in genre trickery, but rather in its ability to deeply understand their characters, and therefore their motive. According to Polygon, “The show’s writers and performers build its characters out to stretch just beyond stereotype, where everyone is shaped by the things that hurt them when they were young. The highs of high school loom large, but perhaps it’s the lows that shape us most — something that becomes even more apparent when we’re telling our own story.”
The show has undeniable comedic talent backing it, including a slew of well-established stand-ups and improv superstars. As the stakes rise and the pace quickens, there is still a genuine sense of humor at its core. Even if you’re not the least bit curious as to who Xavier’s killer is, you can still come along for the ride since the show’s main concern, like a good afterparty, is having fun.
The Obsession Continues
Does it seem like everything coming out these days is something to be solved? Between murder podcasts, true crime documentaries, and an ever-growing list of conspiracies, it seems now more than ever people are obsessed with understanding a crime on a deeper level.
Morbid obsession is not a new phenomenon. In fact, there are often upward trends in mystery content during times of strife; for example after both of the World Wars. Attempting to solve something is not only a satisfying race against characters but also gives a sense of control to their audience. I may not have control over a pandemic, but at least I can try to solve this puzzle!
Crime content has become even more sensationalized through various cultural phenomena, with ‘The Afterparty’ on the heels of several others like it. Just a few months ago ‘Only Murders In The Building’ became Hulu’s most-watched comedy ever in the U.S, ‘Knives Out’ will have its sequel later this year, and just this week Will Arnett’s new improvisational investigative comedy ‘Murderville’ was released on Netflix. Like several of its predecessors, after the initial three-episode drop the show will air new episodes weekly.
According to BBC, Dr. Benedict Morrison, a lecturer in literature, film, and television at the University of Exeter, said, “There’s no other way to get out of a locked room that hasn’t already been done. There’s no way of breaking an alibi that hasn’t already been done. So I think it is really an exciting challenge that a creator takes on – not only to be sufficiently crafty to get one over on the viewer or the reader but also to find something that actually feels fresh.”
‘The Afterparty’ was originally intended as a film, although Miller decided that television would give the most time for characters to explore and build engagement. “Episodic television offers something films cannot – the chance for fans to share their theories – in person, on social media, or on Reddit – as the show progresses, building excitement and anticipation,” said BBC.
It’s one of those moments where you can watch a comedian you’ve always loved be something different. Ilana Glazer isn’t loud and loveable Ilana from ‘Broad City’, she’s a former popular girl who’s hit a rough patch. Barinholtz isn’t dog-loving nurse Morgan Tookers from ‘The Mindy Project’, he’s a certified badass (to himself) and a certified jackass to everyone else.
“Part of the issue of seeing the same scene multiple times is each time you see that scene, you have to learn something new,” Miller said in an interview with Collider. “There has to be a deeper understanding of the relationship. And there has to be some sort of surprise because otherwise, it’d be really boring just to see the same scene multiple times.”
This show provides a format for its incredibly talented cast to perform and perform again but in a different way. It’s always fun to watch these comedians, but as they say in improv, “Yes, And…”
Creator: Christopher Miller
Writers: Christopher Miller, Phil Lord, Nicole Delaney, Anthony King, Jack Dolgen, Kassia Miller, Bridger Winegar, Rachel Smith
Directors: Christopher Miller
Starring: Tiffany Haddish, John Early, Sam Richardson, Ben Schwartz, Zoë Chao, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer, Jamie Demetriou, Dave Franco
By Kylie Bolter
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