Every once in a while, a show airs an episode that’s so good it makes you wish for a whole series just like it. “Danner’s Fire,” this week’s scintillating installment of Apple TV Plus’ murder mystery comedy anthology messaround The Afterparty, is one of those episodes.
“Danner’s Fire” is an interlude in the second season’s ongoing mystery about a crypto-billionaire found dead the morning after his wedding. It’s an episode about Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish), the Poirot-esque sleuth dedicated to solving The Afterparty’s mysteries, with a focus on why she left the police force between seasons. Continuing the show’s genre parody schtick, “Danner’s Fire” is an over-the-top tribute to the erotic thrillers of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Think Basic Instinct but with a ludicrous number of double entendres. It’s also an episode that works on its own, if you’re looking to test drive the show — there’s some movement in the ongoing mystery case, but the main draw is in its stand-alone story.
In “Danner’s Fire,” Detective Danner is on the trail of an arsonist (Paul Scheer) and begins a tempestuous affair with Quentin Devereaux (Michael Ealy), a psychiatrist who specializes in pyromania. True to the genre, Devereaux and Danner waste no time hooking up while discussing the case (“I guess you could call me a pyromaniac, only instead of fire…I like sex,” Devereaux intones).
Most episodes of The Afterparty are a team effort, as the writing, set design, and performances come together in different ways to accomplish the series’ genre homages. “Danner’s Fire” is as close as it gets to a one-man show. Guest star Ealy steals the show as Devereaux, relishing every cheesy line and displaying a natural knack for physical comedy, like in a scene where he and Haddish have a prolonged and messy session of erotic binge eating. The two commit wholesale, rubbing noodles in each other’s faces, having fun with condiments, and basically interacting with the food the way they would each other (if the fruit was the third party in a kinky sex scene played for laughs).
Ealy’s guest turn is shockingly good stuff, making a meal out of jokes that seem unremarkable on the page, like referring to the singer of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as “William Joel.” A journeyman actor with a very long rap sheet and no definitive roles, Ealy gives the kind of performance that makes you wish you could see him on TV every week, even if it isn’t on a season-long erotic thriller parody. In a very effective choice, Ealy doesn’t signal which way his character is going to go when you first meet him. Quentin Devereaux could be about as deadly serious as any one of Michael Douglas’ roles in the genre being homaged, and his commitment is so thorough it’s a genuinely funny surprise whenever Devereaux asks Danner to do something like “slap my titty.” Ealy is perfect for this role, but he’s also clearly versatile enough to take this character’s energy and turn it into a vehicle for, say, a very good take on Bruce Wayne.
Haddish excels in the straight man role to Ealy’s cartoonish eroticism, mostly because it allows her to finally inject Detective Danner with the gonzo energy she’s known for. It’s always been odd that The Afterparty cast a wildly energetic entertainer in such a restrained role, but “Danner’s Fire” lets Haddish do what she does best: keeping the comedic roller coaster going, and running with whatever her scene partner throws at her.
Maybe there aren’t enough erotic thriller jokes in the world to make a full series based on “Danner’s Fire,” but for a stand-alone parody? It’s pretty spot-on, while being a good reminder of one comedian’s strengths and a showcase for an underappreciated talent that still deserves to have his day. Add it all together, and you have one of the funniest half-hours of TV so far this year.