How The Afterparty tackles multiple film genres in a fun way
The Afterparty is a murder-mystery comedy with a unique twist: Every episode focuses on an individual character as they recall what happened on a fateful night their classmate was murdered, but each tells their story from their personal point-of-view. This allows the episodes to pivot in interesting directions, exploring genres beyond comedy while still weaving comedic elements into each one. It is, in essence, a subtle parody of the most popular types of movie genres, using the characters as the vehicles to drive them. Despite the very different tones of each episode, however, the full story is slowly pieced together to paint a clearer picture.
Christopher Miller, creator of the Apple TV+ original series, was inspired to use the plot device from the 1950 psychological thriller Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa. In Rashomon, different people describe their recollections of how a samurai was killed in the forest. While each story ultimately has the same outcome, it’s clear every person tells their version of events in a way that demonstrates their ideal self. That, not surprisingly, often involved embellishing some details while hiding others.
The Afterparty, one of the best shows on Apple TV+, instead takes a more comedic look at the popular whodunit theme, with an ensemble cast to match that reads like a who’s who of the comedy biz, including Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, Ben Schwartz, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer, and Dave Franco.
In the eight episodes that make up the series, the character reenactments are delivered in a style and genre that’s true to each person’s personality. It’s human nature, after all, that every person views a situation from their own perspective, seeing what they see, failing to see what they don’t, and interpreting situations how they perceive them.
Note: Spoilers ahead for episodes 1 through 7.
Each episode begins with Detective Danner (Haddish) sitting down with one of the former classmates at a high school reunion afterparty. In order to figure out what led to the tragic death of a classmate that night, she wants to hear each person’s version of events, hoping someone will trip up and she can solve the case and find the killer. Through every conversation, the tone, pacing, and style of the flashbacks change as the person portrays themselves, and the events, in a light that’s most illuminating and reflective of them.
Episode 1: “Aniq”
The first episode comes across like a romantic comedy as the book smart Aniq (Richardson) has his sights set squarely on reuniting with his former high school crush Zoe (Zoe Chao). His night is immersed entirely in their time reconnecting, from sweetly sneaking into the teacher’s lounge to dipping into the stash of confiscated goods to almost enjoying a first kiss on the bleachers outside. The theme is unrequited love, with viewers itching for a happy ending for the perfect couple who lost an opportunity 15 years before, just as they might in a predictable rom-com.
Episode 2: “Brett”
Flip to episode 2, with events recalled by jock Brett (Barinholtz), whose bravado shines as he recollects events as though he was the lead in an action movie. It includes thrilling sequences as he fights a security guard to get into a house party, embarks on a high-speed car chase to retrieve his daughter’s stuffed animal, and has an intense conversation with his mortal enemy, Xavier (Franco) while competing in the men’s bathroom to see who has the best urination stream (really, it’s one of the best scenes in the show.) In his eyes, Brett is just a man out to avenge his family and anyone trying to tear them apart. The dramatic and dark plotline makes Brett come across as a Jack Reacher/John Wick-type character looking to unleash his wrath.
Episode 3: “Yasper”
A musical is the theme for episode 3, brightening the mood as Yasper (Schwartz) embellishes his version of events by including an elaborate song-and-dance routine that likely never actually happened (though, in his mind, it did). It’s a complete departure from Brett’s high-octane recollection, with a lighthearted vibe that’s reminiscent of Glee and High School Musical. Every thought and emotion is expressed through song, making it difficult for Danner to detect what’s real and what Yasper has simply created in his mind as his version of events. It’s just like the movie version of Chicago, where the song and dance elements are likely more a dream in the character’s head and not actually happening in real life.
Episode 4: “Chelsea”
Meanwhile, Chelsea (Glazer), who was ostracized in school following a traumatic incident, remembers the night very differently. It’s more like a psychological thriller to her as she runs, terrified, from a purported stalker who she believes is responsible for the threatening text messages she has been receiving all night. It’s ominous and intense as Chelsea spends the evening trying to escape a horrifying fate, just like a character being chased by a killer in a horror flick.
Episode 5: “High School”
Episode 5 tells the true story of what happened to Chelsea through flashbacks to a St. Patrick’s Day party in high school. It presents like a teen drama from the 1980s or ’90s, complete with all the house party shenanigans you’d expect from awkward high schoolers letting loose when the adults are away. The style is reminiscent of any John Hughes movie from that era, complete with a gawky Walt (Jamie Demetriou) simply trying to fit in, the terrible misunderstanding and embarrassment for one student, and coming-of-age conversations about moving on after graduation.
Episode 6: “Zoe”
Zoe (Zoe Chao), the sweet, kind, and popular girl, always did the right thing. So it comes as no surprise that the episode focused on her is presented as a playful,animated show. But the animation is used as a vehicle for Zoe to effectively express how she was fighting her different personalities that night. While she wanted to let loose and have fun following her recent divorce, her dominant, responsible self insisted on trying to stop her from doing things she wouldn’t normally do. The cartoon episode, put together by ShadowMachine, the same animation studio behind BoJack Horseman, beautifully represents both Zoe’s playful personality and her inner conflict.
Episode 7: “Danner”
With episode 7 focused on Danner, the buddy cop genre is explored, and is similar to a stereotypical police procedural like Law & Order: SVU. It’s a murder mystery in its own right, complete with the rookie cop trying to make a name for herself. She takes risks to solve a seemingly open-and-shut case she believes might put the wrong person in jail, while the top academy student does everything he can to prove that she’ll never be better than him.
What genre will we see in the finale, set to debut on March 4, present as? We’ll just have to wait.
The Afterparty’s genre-flipping nature works because it pokes fun at typical tropes while still managing to stay true to its core story without seeming disjointed or strange. Every episode ties up loose ends in the overarching mystery, reflecting how each character thinks, how they view themselves, and where their mental state was in the moment.
Initially meant to be a movie, Miller loved the idea of being able to develop each character individually through single episodes, and this worked in his favor. The Afterparty has received positive ratings from Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising the “melding of genres” and “extensive guest list of actors,” calling it a “worthwhile nightcap.”
Fans would love to see The Afterparty return with the same concept and a different murder mystery, even a new cast, for a second season. In a day and age when viewers need something more, something different, the show is a fun way to deliver a compelling story that doesn’t fit one or two cookie-cutter genres. You get a different look and feel with each episode that keeps it consistently fresh. What type of show do you want to watch tonight? With The Afterparty, you sort of get them all, and will be laughing (and guessing) the whole way through.