Chris Miller & Phil Lord have come a long way in 20 years; writing, directing and/or producing some of the best movies and TV series of those two decades. Clone High, 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie, Last Man on Earth and of course, the mega-hit Spider-man: Into The Spiderverse have turned them into household names. However, it's the first of those hits, the wonderfully silly and inventive Clone High, that marks the last time they entirely created and ran a TV show. That is until The Afterparty, the new Apple TV+ series that joins its streamer’s almost flawless comedy lineup.
Originally conceived as a movie over 10 years ago by Miller, it was then expanded into a series for him to direct. (Lord also writes one episode and executive produces the series alongside his creative partner) The show focuses on one night (save for a high school party and a misguided flashback - more on that later), where some old school friends are brought back together for their high school reunion. Before the credits roll, we see former Ska nerd Xavier (Dave Franco) plunge to his death off a cliff. Now an uber-famous popstar with songs such as 'X Marks The G-Spot' and acting roles in a Hall & Oats biopic (with a cameoing Channing Tatum) and a movie adaptation of Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) arrives at the crime scene with her weirdly strong partner Detective Culp (John Early) to discover Xavier fell from a balcony at his swanky house, which was hosting an afterparty for several of said former classmates. They're still there, so Danner locks them in and begins questioning them individually while they continually point fingers at each other. What unfolds over 8 episodes is a different character telling their side of the evening, each visualised for us as a distinct 'mind movie' genre. It's quite an ambitious undertaking, featuring a rom-com, an action movie, a musical, a psychological thriller, a teen party movie, an animated movie, and a gritty LA cop movie.
The individual flashbacks are not only fun genre mashups; they're good at shining a light on each character's personality and state of mind on the night. Like the best murder mysteries, it's not just the Rubik's Cube solution to HOW the crime was committed; it's the WHY of it too. This is presumably why Miller decided to expand it from a movie to a series. This way, we get to know the characters and the possible reasons why they would want Xavier dead (spoiler: they all have a viable reason).
Of course, I say 'get to know', but because we see their 'mind movie' as THEY tell it to detective Danner, we also see different perspectives of events and sometimes completely different accounts of how those events unfolded. This makes the narrators frequently unreliable and makes telling the truth from fiction difficult.
You'd be forgiven for expecting a wild parody of the murder mystery genre going in. While people such as Ilana Glazer and Franco have branched out into more dramatic roles, there's no denying this is a collection of some of the best comedic actors around. So what surprises is how this is a proper murder mystery as much as it is a comedy. Maybe even more so. Influenced by classics such as Rashomon, Agatha Christie and even Cluedo (each character is dressed in a colour of the playing pieces), The Afterparty proudly wears its influences on its sleeve.
That's not to say you have to bring your inner Poirot to enjoy The Afterparty. Far from it. The laugh out loud performances, particularly from Sam Richardson, Ben Swartz, and Jamie Demetriou, bring you along for the ride as well as develop stories like Aniq's (Richardson) quest to woo his high school crush Zoe (Zoe Chao). You can be invested in discovering who the murderer was, even if you're not actively searching for every little clue.
While some styles work better with their storytellers than others, Miller displays a remarkable grasp of each of the genre tropes without making it seem like some hacky Scary-Movie type parody. They all feel vital to the overall telling of the story. That is, except episode 7. This episode features a flashback for Detective Danner to another crime earlier in her career. On its own, it's not a bad episode, per se, but it feels like a bump in the road as it abandons one of the biggest draws of the show - the cast - to follow a completely different story. Some elements hint at how it might tie into the central mystery, but from a storytelling perspective, it just doesn't work, and you find yourself wondering when we'll get back to our main cast.
Speaking of casting, knowing that the initial movie idea was 10 years ago makes you wonder how much it's changed - even after casting. Every single character seems perfectly written for each actors strengths. Schwartz is a loud, flamboyant and overconfident joker. Demetriou is an awkward, deadpan weirdo (watch for his scene-stealing background dancing during the musical episode). Haddish is a wise-cracking, sassy know it all. And so on. All these traits are ones we've seen in their best roles. It begs the question: which came first - the character or the actor. Which is a long way around saying this is a real murderers row (sorry) of comedy talent, all firing on their A-game.
Only 7 of the 8 episodes were provided to critics, so I wasn't able to learn the murderer's identity (which again speaks to the importance of the whodunnit part of the show), but you probably wouldn't be able to rule out anyone before the finale. Subsequently, I've already watched those 7 episodes twice and likely will again before the finale airs. Not only do I want to spot more clues, but I'm also keen to spend time with these characters again. While mysteries can often live or die on the big reveal at the end, The Afterparty feels like it will still be a great ride, no matter if the solution doesn't satisfy.
The ambitions of this show are pretty big, however The Afterparty succeeds on almost every level (the aforementioned episode 7 being the only significant flaw). Not only is it a delightful show, but it's also a remarkable achievement in concept execution. Led by an outstanding cast, it's a funny, thrilling, emotionally involving tale, surrounded by an intriguing mystery that harkens back to the classic whodunnits. Another hit for Miller & Lord.
This review originally appeared on Screen Times.