Review: ‘Afterparty’ solves comical murder mystery with different genres every episode

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Afterparty' on Apple TV+

Imagine attending your high school reunion only for your classmate to die that night.

That’s the comedy premise of “Afterparty,” which just dropped Episode 4 on Apple TV+.

Full disclosure: critics were only given access to the first seven out of eight episodes, so I still don’t know “whodunnit.” We’ll all have to watch the finale together on March 4.

However, I can definitely tell you to stick with it even if Episode 1 doesn’t hook you. The pilot features multiple moments where physical humor doesn’t exactly connect, but I promise it gets better in a hurry to the point that you’ll be begging for new episodes.

Created by Christopher Miller (“The Lego Movie”), the story follows Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish), who investigates the death of pop star Xavier (Dave Franco), who was apparently pushed to his death the night of his 15-year high school reunion. His former classmates wake up like “The Hangover” to be interviewed by Danner like “Knives Out.”

Here’s the catch: Every episode is told from a different classmate’s perspective like a comedy version of Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” (1950) or Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” (2021). There’s another catch: Every episode is also told in a different Hollywood genre.

Episode 1 is a romantic comedy told from the perspective of Aniq (Sam Richardson), a shy escape-room designer trying to win the heart of his high school crush Zoë (Zoë Chao), who friend-zoned him in favor of future ex-husband Brett (Ike Barinholtz). The “rom” works better than the “com,” as we root for Zoë to choose Aniq rather than the cocky Xavier.

Episode 2 is an action movie told from the perspective of Brett, who shows a softer side raising his daughter with Zoë rather than the extreme jealous streak that we saw from Aniq’s perspective in the pilot. This blue-tinted episode begins to show the promise of the premise, how the differing perspectives and genres can unlock real action-packed fun.

Episode 3 is where the show hits its stride as a musical from the perspective of Yasper (Ben Schwartz), who tries to reconnect with former ska bandmate Xavier. If you found Yasper annoying in the first two episodes, he’ll become your favorite character with hilarious numbers: “Two Shots,” “Yeah Sure Whatever” and “Three Dots from Stardom.”

Episode 4 is a thriller from the perspective of Chelsea (Ilana Glazer), a once-popular girl turned social outcast due to a controversial incident in high school. She keeps receiving mysterious text messages from an unknown number and believes she’s being stalked through the hallways during the reunion, all while vowing revenge against Xavier.

Episode 5 is a teen movie from the perspective of wallflower Walt (Jamie Demetriou), who no one seems to remember. In fact, his episode is the only one not named after him, simply called “High School.” It opens with a red-stamp logo like “American Pie” as he hosts a party at his parents’ house, desperately trying to fit in while revealing key backstory.

Episode 6 might be the most creative of all as we see an animated film told from the perspective of Zoë. It cleverly shows Zoë as a two-headed split personality: Fun Zoë wants to hook up with Xavier, while Serious Zoë wants to give Aniq a chance. There’s one point we think the animators mess up, only to realize they’re showing her two sides merging.

The penultimate chapter, Episode 7, is a police procedural told from the perspective of Danner, who explains her back story on the beat, from a series of stolen packages on front porches to a full-fledged Hollywood mansion murder. I watched the clock, thinking they were running out of time to wrap things up, only to realize there is one more episode.

I can’t give it an official grade yet until we see how it ends. My guess is that the culprit is someone we haven’t considered yet, or that it wasn’t a murder at all. Maybe Xavier fell?

Until then, I marvel at how it began as a mediocre pilot that evolved into a promising exercise in genres and perspectives to the point that I can’t wait for the final episode.

In a way, the show itself is like Zoë’s view of Aniq: It starts out cute but not dating material, then the more time you spend with it, you adore it and can’t imagine your life without it.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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