‘The Afterparty’ is the exceedingly delightful murder mystery you need to watch next

A group of friends sing onstage at a reunion.
Tiya Sircar, from left, Ben Schwartz and Ayden Mayeri in “The Afterparty.”

“The Afterparty,” premiering Friday on Apple TV+, is an exceedingly delightful, cleverly constructed, adeptly acted comedy-mystery set around a 15-year high school reunion. Created and directed by Christopher Miller, with his customary partner, Phil Lord, as an executive producer, it has roots in an unproduced film project floated around the time of their Lego Movie.”

Sam Richardson plays sweet, brainy Aniq, who has come to the reunion to connect with Zoe (Zoë Chao), his undeclared high school crush, recently separated from her oafish husband and classmate Brett (Ike Barinholtz), who wants her back. Yasper (Ben Schwartz), Aniq’s best friend, as much of an extrovert as Aniq is an introvert, encourages him to make up for 15 years of lost time, while he pursues a nonromantic agenda of his own. Chelsea (Ilana Glazer) has gone from “class president to hot mess,” but none of them have wound up exactly where they hoped.

Also in the mix are “the Jennifers” (Tiya Sircar and Ayden Mayeri), best friends, both hugely pregnant; Ned (Kelvin Yu), married to Jennifer #1 (Sircar), as she is called; Indigo (Genevieve Angelson), dark and alternative, promoting “homemade human breast milk cheese”; and Walt (Jamie Demetriou), the student no one remembers, either from high school or a previous conversation. (My only real difficulty with the series is the treatment of this character; it makes everyone else seem cruel. But then, I had similar complaints about the constant dismissal of Jerry/Garry on “Parks and Recreation.” Maybe I feel that I’m that guy, I don’t know.)


Everyone has a plan, variously diverted or (seemingly) advanced by the presence of Xavier (Dave Franco), formerly Eugene, now a successful pop star and actor, if possibly not a talented one, arriving by helicopter, shirtless under a jacket: “I’m just here to re-une, like all you normal people.” (His credits include a Hall & Oates biopic and a movie based on Hungry Hungry Hippos.) He’s also the host of the titular after-party, as well as the murder victim, established just before and after the first episode’s excellent, Saul Bass-inspired opening credits.

They all wind up at Xavier’s, where, as the people present when the body is discovered, they are stuck together like characters in an Agatha Christie country-house mystery — forbidden to leave while the investigation goes on, though the action repeatedly flashes back to the reunion.

Investigating is Tiffany Haddish as Det. Danner. (John Early plays her second, Det. Culp.) She is only supposed to gather statements and wait for the imminent arrival of a hotshot “ringer” detective from Los Angeles, whom she knows and considers “garbage,” but is determined to solve the case herself before that; it sets a clock on the action. Eccentric and unconventional (“My goal is to find out who killed Xavier, but it would be nice to have some fun in the process,” she says, setting out some little plastic figures before an interview), she is also the series’ most adult character, and she lays the structural groundwork for the different genre pastiches that frame each guest’s story — romantic comedy, action film, psychological thriller, musical, art movie. There is animation.

“We’re all stars of our own movie,” Danner tells them. “The same thing could happen but you see it in a different way, and as a part of my process … I want to hear your story, I want to hear your mind movie.”

(I will say now that I am here for a “Danner” spinoff.)

Two detectives standing before a wall of technology
John Early, left, and Tiffany Haddish in “The Afterparty.”

Films and television series in which the conflicting views of unreliable narrators are juxtaposed — and memory makes unreliable narrators of us all — are not new. Nor are those in which multiple threads intersect, adding new information to what we think we know, revealing something that seemed important as incidental, something incidental as crucial, or in which different filmic styles are used within the same piece to frame a story. They’ve been the engine of comedies and dramas, high art and mass entertainments. But they’re all handled adroitly here, notwithstanding the odd nonsensical cog thrown in to make the bigger wheels turn.

And a high school reunion, in which people are already putting on false fronts, telling half-truths, is a perfect setting for this sort of tale. But “The Afterparty” is actually quite knowing about missed opportunities, second chances, the way that a word in the right place, or the lack of a word at the right time, might change a life for better or worse, and accidents that take on the mantle of fate.

Spotting the mechanics of the interweaving storylines — sometimes contradictory, sometimes in sync — is enjoyable in itself, but Miller keeps his comedy grounded in character and relationships; a solid foundation of human behavior anchors the exaggerations. The pastiches are accomplished with more than usual fealty; the cinematography (by Carl Herse), score (Daniel Pemberton), production design (Bruce Robert Hill) and even the choreography (Kathryn Burns), when it comes, effectively replay cliches of each form without going all the way to parody. The series bears rewatching: What was funny the first time around stays funny, but you will also find jokes you missed and details you might have been too busy absorbing some other piece of information to notice the first time around.

We surveyed The Times TV team to come up with a list of the 75 best TV shows you can watch on Netflix. As in, tonight.

June 2, 2023

Apple TV+ has made all but the final episode available to reviewers, which is frustrating — and yet, at the same time, I am in no hurry to get to the end. In part, it’s because I’m enjoying myself, and in part because, while the conclusion of a mystery can be satisfying — though Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers have already invented nearly all the clever twists — it can also be disappointing, reducing a world of possibility to an arithmetical sum. Worst is the problem of the killer turning out to be someone you have come to like, or at least feel sympathetic toward — and “The Afterparty” gets you invested in all the likely suspects.

“Tell the story a certain way, and any one of us could have done this,” Zoe observes, “but tell the story in a different way, and none of us did this.” I would prefer none, in a way; I have my suspicions, and they make me nervous.

What answer we get may, to be sure, depend on whether we have been watching a series, a limited series or a series in which a new case will occupy each season. I have no clue as to that particular mystery, but again, I am ready for Tiffany Haddish as — make that “is” — “Danner.”


‘The Afterparty’

Where: Apple TV+

When: Any time, starting Friday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)