The Afterparty (Apple TV+) is one of those “oh, it’s them from that thing” shows, packed to the gills with comedy stars who have appeared in better series or films. Originally conceived as a film about a high school reunion by Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street creators Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, it has been transformed into an eight-part murder mystery, with each episode adopting a different genre depending on the character we are following. Tiffany Haddish plays Danner, the detective who puts herself in charge of investigating the crime. Smart and starry? What could go wrong?
Not much, as it turns out, but its fundamental decent-ness is to its detriment. A group of old classmates are getting together for their 15-year reunion, and in among the archetypes is Xavier, formerly known as Eugene, now a famous rock star and actor whose sole purpose seems to be to mess with the heads of the people with whom he went to school. (Dave Franco plays him with ample slime and ooze). But Xavier ends up falling to his death from the balcony of his beach-side mansion, where the reunion’s afterparty has been taking place. Cue the arrival of Danner and her sidekick Culp (Search Party’s John Early, underused in the early episodes), there to grill the attendees and work out whodunnit. The partygoers’ testimonies offer up a cinematic kaleidoscope of stories.
Like Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws, this plays on the idea of each character being a well-known type. It opens with an extended episode on “adorkable loveboy” Aniq (Veep’s Sam Richardson), who designs escape rooms for a living. He is there to win back his mid-divorce high-school crush, “uptight artist girl” Zoë (Zoë Chao), who gets her own animated episode later. His episode is mostly rom-com, with a brief diversion into arthouse fare. But given that it has to establish the plot and style of the series, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do. It is busy with fun ideas and good performances, but lacking in pace. Even at 48 minutes, the opener feels far too long. It lacks the comedic punch to be truly funny and tries too hard to be funny to have dramatic heft. It cautiously puts one foot forward, then whips it back again.
It was a wise move to launch this show with three episodes (the rest will follow weekly). Once it has set the scene, the instalments fall back to a more manageable and more flattering half-hour or so. Brett, Zoë’s ex-husband (Mindy Project alumnus Ike Barinholtz) gets his own action movie, which you could have guessed from the neckline on his leather jacket and his Matt Damon hair. The more bombastic scenes – car chases, handbrake turns, punchups with bouncers – are interspersed with his efforts to be a good dad, and it works surprisingly well. A literal pissing contest between him and Xavier hints at a surreal, slightly gross, very silly comedy that only appears sporadically. It could have benefited from more like this.
The third episode stretches the show’s muscles again, giving Yasper (Parks and Rec’s Ben Schwartz) a musical in which he sings his feelings and gently mocks Hamilton’s My Shot with a song called Two Shots. It is all classy to a fault, but for all of its smart ideas, it doesn’t quite ignite. Each episode is an impressive achievement, in that it looks like a lot of work went into it, but I was left admiring that work, rather than immersed in the story. With all those stars, and the ability to borrow from every genre, it should zip along. Instead, it chooses to meander.
Still, it is watchable, not least because we won’t find out who the culprit is until the final episode, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in guessing which genre each character will find themselves embroiled in. Stath Lets Flats’ Jamie Demetriou has a small role as running gag Walt, whom nobody can remember, and Broad City’s Ilana Glazer is Chelsea, the former queen bee who had “a total breakdown” and is acting erratically. This is enjoyable, steady, perfectly fine. But it is also classic prestige streaming service television, in that it is a little overdone, a little overlong and lacking the touch of ruthlessness that would have made it excellent.