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‘The Afterparty’ Review: Sam Richardson Shines in Apple TV+’s Genre-Bending Mystery Comedy

Who killed Dave Franco at a high school reunion? Detective Tiffany Haddish is on the case

Described as a “genre-defying series,” Apple TV+’s “The Afterparty” features a murderer’s row of comedic talent, all joined together for creator and sole director Chris Miller’s murder mystery. (Miller’s longtime filmmaking partner, Phil Lord, serves as an executive producer on the series and co-writer of the series’ sixth episode.) Set on the night of a 15-year high school reunion (and yes, the show briefly addresses that that’s not standard) where a murder has occurred, nearly every segment in the eight-episode season (of which seven were provided for this review) comes from the perspective of one of the night’s attendees. That individual provides testimony to the detective on the case — Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) — who considers these accounts “mind movies.” According to Danner, “we’re all the stars of our own movie” — which creates the basic angle of the series.

Based on these individual episode-length “mind movies,” “The Afterparty” sets out to build a complete picture of what actually happened on the night of the murder of a high-profile celebrity (and the suspects’ former classmate), Xavier (Dave Franco). “The Afterparty” turns each character’s testimony into a different genre, from an Ingmar Bergman-esque art-house film to a modern romantic comedy to a late ‘90s/early ‘00s teen comedy (which is appropriate, as these characters are from the Class of 2006 and have the music taste to prove it). Each genre and episode provides a true showcase for its leads. It’s also a showcase for Miller, who directed every episode with a deft approach to each genre.

As a series about the aftermath of high school, naturally, the cast fill the requisite archetypes. There’s the charming nerd, Aniq (Sam Richardson); the one that got away, Zoe (Zoe Chao); the best friend, Yasper (Ben Schwartz); the prom king, Brett (Ike Barinholtz); the overachiever, Chelsea (Ilana Glazer); and the loser, Walt (Jamie Demetriou). The supporting cast is also well-rounded, both in its performances and characterizations, with characters like mean girls Jennifer #1 (Tiya Sircar) and Jennifer #2 (Ayden Mayeri), an artsy Goth named Indigo (Genevieve Angelson), and big-man-on-campus Ned (Kelvin Yu). (In fact, Sircar and Angelson often steal the scenes they’re in.) Fifteen years has changed these people — both for the better and worse, and in the case of nerd-turned-superstar Xavier, also for dead — and each has reasons for attending the reunion and Xavier’s wild and ultimately tragic afterparty. The question, of course, becomes, whose reason includes murder?

Despite the ensemble nature of the show, Richardson’s Aniq clearly emerges as the de facto lead, with Schwartz’s Yasper as his sidekick and Chao’s Zoe as the love interest. In “Veep,” Richardson proved his worth as a comedic sniper in a supporting role, while two-handers like “Detroiters” and “Champaign ILL” showed his strength as a comedic co-lead. But watching him up against actors like Haddish, Barinholtz and Franco — the latter two especially serve as his foils — highlights his strengths.

Lord and Miller come from the film world (though they created the cult series “Clone High”) but “The Afterparty” doesn’t suffer from pacing or structure issues that a show described as “an eight-hour movie” might. Nor does it ever feel like it would rather be a movie than a series — even though it was originally conceived as a feature premise (fka known as “The Reunion”) back in 2013.

It also helps that the cast is full of comedic actors known both for their work in both television and film, who know what levels to play for the project. And not only does “The Afterparty” work as a limited series, but there are clearly possibility to turn the idea into an anthology in which Haddish’s Detective Danner (as well as her partner, John Early’s Detective Culp) take on future cases. Haddish truly does work as the linchpin in the investigation, balancing the comedy with the genuine care her character has for solving the mystery and achieving justice. She’s not quite the straight man of the series, but she’s believable as the adult in the room as other characters go off the rails.

“The Afterparty’s” genre-mashup approach to storytelling technically isn’t anything new — TV and films have turned to the “Rashomon” approach for decades. But in a time when comedic murder mysteries are having a moment (both with Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” and Netflix’s upcoming “Murderville”), “The Afterparty” stands out as top tier on multiple fronts.