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a dance party breaks out at a high school reunion in Apple TV Plus’s The Afterparty Photo: Apple TV Plus

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The Afterparty’s mix of murder, mayhem, and laughs starts the year off right

The Apple TV Plus comedy is an early highlight for 2022

Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

It’s easy to appreciate The Afterparty, a new Apple TV Plus show about two universal truths: Things are never as bad (or good) as they were in high school, and no one has a memory more reliable than our own.

The new comedy comes from Christopher Miller, famous for collaborating with Phil Lord on films like 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie. Much like those other projects, The Afterparty is equally inventive and hilarious, assembling an all-star cast in a genre-hopping series that examines a murder from eight different perspectives, each in a different genre style. Its first three episodes — all of which are available today — hop from romantic comedy to action movie to musical, and part of the fun is seeing what the show will do with the next episode.

The basics are the same each time: It’s the 15-year reunion for the class of 2006 at a California high school. This particular reunion is a little flashier than most, as Xavier (Dave Franco) has become a pop mega-star since graduating, and is hosting an afterparty in his beachfront mansion. But said party ends with Xavier plummeting to his death, and detectives Danner and Culp (Tiffany Haddish and John Early) on the case. There’s sweet nerd Aniq (Sam Richardson), his best friend and still-aspiring musician Yasper (Ben Schwartz), the kind and bookish Zoë (Zoë Chao), former douchey bully Brett (Ike Barinholtz), popular girl Chelsea (Ilana Glazer), and odd wallflower Walt (Jamie Demetriou). All of them are suspects, and they all have a different version of the night’s events.

Ben Schwarz sings into a mic with three ladies on backup vocals in Apple TV Plus’ The Afterparty Photo: Apple TV Plus

Each of The Afterparty’s episodes is centered around one character’s account of the night, colored by the perspective they brought to the reunion. Aniq’s version is colored by rom-com sweetness, as he arrived in the hopes of reconnecting with Zoë, his former lab partner and crush. Brett, still under the illusion that he’s a hotshot, portrays the night with action-movie badassery, where he vaults over car hoods and gets into a very literal pissing match with Xavier, an actual famous person. And, in an early highlight, Yasper, still a big dreamer, recounts the night as a comedic musical, where every part of the reunion is a small but bombastic step towards finally getting his big break (except, you know, the whole murder part). The series only really sags when a viewpoint character doesn’t quite gel with the genre their story is told in — one episode makes a valiant attempt at spinning the night into a thriller template, but a lack of stakes makes it fall flat.

Danner and Culp ground The Afterparty’s antics, not because they’re less funny than anyone else, but because they keep track of every plot twist the show throws at viewers. That way, if you’re more interested in laughs than concocting fan theories, you can feel confident in not missing anything. However, the show is also very carefully constructed, with careful overlap and conflicting accounts and motivations offering plenty to speculate over.

It’s also a show that is less fragmented than its structure suggests.While every major character gets a showcase with Danner and Culp serving as narrative Dungeon Masters, Aniq — whose story kicks the first episode of The Afterparty off — is determined to solve the case himself (he designs escape rooms, so he’s at least as qualified as a cop). As each character narrates their respective flashback, Aniq enlists Yasper to help in his concurrent investigation. This gives The Afterparty’s deep supporting cast even more time to shine when the flashback narrative doesn’t necessarily involve them, and for every episode to have a sense of momentum in spite of constant flashbacks.

Aniq and Yasper find a clue in Apple TV Plus’ The Afterparty Photo: Apple TV Plus

This is where The Afterparty effectively becomes the end of Clue — you know, where Tim Curry runs around the entire mansion gesticulating through his conclusions? — stretched across an entire series. Only this time it’s Sam Richardson apologizing his way through a beachfront bachelor pad dragging Ben Schwartz behind him, and Ben Schwartz is kind of being his Parks and Recreation character but a little more chill. If that sounds appealing to you, it will be very difficult to wait for new episodes of The Afterparty every week.

Yet the best part of The Afterparty doesn’t lie in genre trickery. It’s in how, with incredible economy, the show’s writers and performers build its characters out to stretch just beyond stereotype, where everyone is shaped by the things that hurt them when they were young. The highs of high school loom large, but perhaps it’s the lows that shape us most — something that becomes even more apparent when we’re telling our own story. Because we are all the hero of our own story, even when that story ends in a murder.

The first three episodes of The Afterparty are now streaming on Apple TV Plus, with new episodes premiering every Friday.