Those in the mood for a twisty mystery with an abundance of narrative creativity and a solid sense of humour will easily be taken by the second season of Apple TV+’s The Afterparty, even if it is slightly less accomplished and engaging than its initial outing. Smartly constructed around complicated, intricately interwoven characters and a unique storytelling gimmick that still has plenty of mileage left in it, The Afterparty will keep viewers guessing and looking for clues throughout, even though there’s an obvious deficit of huge laughs when compared to the show’s underrated first season. It’s oodles of fun to watch a stacked cast of professionals clearly having a blast while trying to solve a whodunnit, and at the end of the day, it’s that manic energy and accomplished plotting that carry the series to another solid outing.
Aniq (Sam Richardson), the unlikely soft-hearted and sometimes endearingly bumbling hero of the first season, has now been dating the girl of his dreams, Zoë (Zoë Chao), for quite some time and is on the verge of proposing. He plans to ask permission of Zoë’s parents at the upcoming wedding of her sister, Grace (Poppy Liu), to wealthy, if admittedly odd and socially awkward entrepreneur Edgar Minnows (Zach Woods). True to form, things go horribly awry for Aniq, embarrassing himself at nearly every turn, but that’s nothing compared to the chaos that starts the morning after the wedding. Edgar has been murdered, and everyone who attended the titular post-wedding event at the Minnows’ lavish estate is a suspect. Edgar’s cold, domineering, and frequently careless mother, Isabel (Elizabeth Perkins), and his slimy looking business partner, Sebastian (Jack Whitehall), don’t want anyone calling the police before some key bits of financial business are ironed out. Isabel is convinced that Grace is the murderer, which incenses Zoë and their family. To try and clear Grace’s name before the police finally arrive, Aniq puts in a call to former police detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish), who has quit the force and is currently working on a book about the previous murder they all solved together.
Season two of The Afterparty gets off to a jarringly abrupt start in its first episode, but quickly finds footing the longer the core mystery and characters are allowed to settle into a comfortable groove. Just like the first season, The Afterparty – created by Christopher Miller of Lord and Miller fame (responsible for the likes of Clone High, 21 & 22 Jump Street, and the recent Spider-Verse films) – follows a unique storytelling template. For the unfamiliar (and the first season should be viewed before diving into this one cold), it’s a bit like Rashomon where every witness and suspect recounts the events and details leading up to and following the murder from their own biased perspectives. Each episode takes on the appearance and tone of a specific genre or type of film that the characters see themselves as living in their own minds. This time out, stories are told in the form of a costume drama, film noir, found footage, heist movie, inspirational Oscar bait, and – in the funniest one of all – a 90s era erotic thriller, just to name a few.
That playfulness and the willingness of the cast and crew to embrace these tropes wholeheartedly elevates The Afterparty greatly. Sometimes the chosen form of genre for each episode leads to some anachronisms, stylistic inconsistencies, and narrative whiplash, but that’s all part of the charm. The perspective keeps changing, but the core mystery remains the same, and attentive, invested viewers will have a ball trying to keep up with all the conflicting details and idiosyncrasies provided by the witnesses and suspects. Considering that Miller and company’s plot is a lot denser and has more moving parts than the previous season, the added attention to detail necessary to craft what amounts to ten completely different mini-movies that have to add up to a cohesive whole is impressive and appreciated. Sure, some of these episodes work better than others when viewed in their own little vacuums, but the spirit is always willing and in service of a much larger whole. There might be “better” or more “efficient” ways of telling a mystery like this, but it likely wouldn’t be as entrancingly irreverent as The Afterparty. The structure allows some characters who initially seem sympathetic to appear more like cads the long things drag out, while those who seem like doofuses at the outset morph into sympathetic figures.
This season’s ensemble cast is once again bolstered by outstanding performances from Richardson and Haddish, who showcase their whip-smart comedic chops and ability to create consistent emotional anchors amid all the chaos around their characters. Woods, mostly seen in flashbacks, gives a beguiling, highly memorable, and often hilarious turn as the ill fated, eccentric victim whose best friend is their pet lizard. Perkins cranks up the privilege and patent disdain for humanity as Edgar’s cruel mother, in a performance that’s both perfect in terms of consistency and too chillingly nasty to always be fun viewing. Whitehall brings his patented British charm and well honed comedic sensibility to what could’ve been a stock business bro role, and there’s also outstanding supporting performances from the likes of Anna Konkle (as Edgar’s spacey adopted sister), Paul Walter Hauser (as Grace’s fumbling, lovesick, amateur sleuth ex-boyfriend), Ken Jeong (as Grace and Zoë’s dad, who’s trying to get his Taiwanese shaved ice business off the ground), and John Cho (as the sisters’ vagabond, fun loving uncle). The appeal of having such a well rounded cast of pros is that not only do they get the chance to partake in a layered character piece, but they also get a chance to star in their own distinct part of the production. In their own segments and as part of a larger whole, the cast is a blast to watch and fits well amid the current crop of star studded whodunnits in both cinema and television.
But while the cast and plotting remains up to snuff, there are noticeably fewer laughs this time out. While the first season of The Afterparty was riotous with jokes throughout, there’s a distinct undercurrent of meanness and cynicism in this second instalment that often causes some of the gags and set pieces to fall flat. It might be the old money setting of the Minnows’ estate that naturally lends itself to such a tone, but the first season was also more or less a tale of haves and have-nots clashing together over a suspicious death. For some reason, Miller and his team of writers and directors have leaned a bit more heavily into the nastiness of the scenario – particularly though the eyes of Perkins’ character, who provides jarring, record scratching moments of cruelty – and the overall level of silly fun is diminished. It’s not rhyming perfectly with the out-there construction of the series itself.
I should also add that I can’t speak to how great the ending is of The Afterparty’s second outing, as the finale of this ten episode run was not made available for viewing by press time. After watching 9/10ths of the show, however, I do wonder how they plan to wrap everything up with only a single episode left to watch. I’ve been mentally collecting clues and formulating theories throughout this cycle of The Afterparty, but I feel no closer to figuring out who the killer is. And considering that this is a mystery, that’s undoubtedly a positive, and a sign that the show still has strength where it counts the most.
Season two of The Afterparty begins streaming on Apple TV+ starting Wednesday, July 12, 2023 with the first two episodes and a new instalment following each week.
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