Silly isn’t hard to do in television shows and films. Watch any CBS sitcom or run through the Adam Sandler corner on Netflix. Improbable situations, things falling down, chaos reigning, then a neat little bow at the end to send everyone away with a grin on their face and a spring in their step. So good, so forgettable. Silly and smart is trickier since the two often cancel each other out. The second season of Apple TV’s The Afterparty pulls off that trick. But just barely.
The first season was a tight-packed whodunnit that pivoted around Xavier (played with gusto by Dave Franco, the current era’s most gleefully obnoxious vendor of smarm), an intolerable dweeb-turned-music superstar who is murdered after a high school reunion afterparty at his glass modernist palace. Each episode allows a different guest to deliver their take on what happened to Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish). Nerd hero and chief suspect Aniq (Sam Richardson) pieces together clues to clear his name.
In the second season, Aniq arrives at another swank locale, this time a luxe wine country-adjacent manor, the kind of place where drinks still come in mason jars. Grace (Poppy Liu), sister to Aniq’s girlfriend Zoë (Zoë Chao), is marrying tech entrepreneur Edgar (Zach Woods). Keeping to the style of The Afterparty‘s initial season, Season 2 starts when Edgar is found dead. Why does Aniq team up again with Danner, who is no longer a detective? Technically, it’s because he’s trying to do a favor for Zoë by clearing Grace, who, without a pre-nuptial and facing the terminally drunk and paranoid mother-in-law Isabel (Elizabeth Perkins, clipped and nasty), is the prime suspect. But truly, it’s just an excuse to get the band back together.
This is no complaint. Haddish’s sublime confidence (she seems to be having an out-of-body experience, watching herself cracking the room up and then cracking herself up further just seeing it) and Richardson’s malapropic verbal pratfalls can power any comedy on their own. Show creator Christopher Miller uses Danner and Aniq as connective tissue between interrogations and to punch up scenes when the mystery lags. The latter is generally left to Danner, who is still less investigative bloodhound than a giddy fan who’s just looking for the popcorn.
The Afterparty Season 2 maintains the tangled insecurities, fast-paced humor, and spacey disconnect from reality that made Season 1 stand out. Things feel more relaxed, though not always in a good way. The original’s bottled-up, single-night setting and tense clashes over pride, betrayal, and buried secrets give it a classic-seeming murder mystery feel dashed with farce. By contrast, the second go-round takes its sweet time and occasionally loses momentum. Red herrings are served up and brushed aside with rapid dispatch and family secrets spill into the open at a rapid clip. One episode bumps into the next, each a self-contained stylistic homage to a different genre.
While this approach dilutes some of the immediacy, it generates depth. On the surface, there seems no reason for the episode on “Travis” episode (Paul Walter Hauser), a former flame of Grace’s who fancies himself an investigator, to be done in mock-noir-detective style, all meaningful looks and self-consciously brittle patter. Nor the “Hannah” episode regarding Edgar’s sister Hannah (PEN15 co-creator Anna Konkle, underplaying with panache), which is rendered in peak Wes Anderson twee. The “Feng” episode – relayed via the previously unseen wedding footage shot by a videographer hired by Grace’s entrepreneur father (Ken Jeong, getting more mileage for once by underplaying) – serves as a dramatically convenient plot-twist dump but more an excuse to mock over-eager social media clips. But each episode’s visual template primarily provides a glimpse into the storyteller’s self-image and shows how people can turn misadventures into meaningful and aesthetically coherent narratives.
These self-serving narratives and the lengths to which some of the stronger performers—particularly John Cho, with his arch turn as the bride’s preposterously pretentious “funcle” Ulysses—go to deliver them are the point of The Afterparty more than the murder. Much like Xavier did tin Season one, this season’s victim, Edgar, almost steals the show. Even when seen primarily through flashbacks, Woods’ flatline freakshow delivery—frequently delivered to his pet lizard Roxana, whose counsel he eagerly seeks—stands out as the kind of star-turn character performers like him (whose headshot certainly resides on many a casting director’s hard drive in a folder marked “Quirky/Disturbing”) rarely receive.
Like other entries in the current murder mystery renaissance, from Rian Johnson’s Knives Out films to Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot series, The Afterparty can be seen as more of a delivery system for quips, comically knotty plotting and beautifully escapist settings than true head-scratching whodunnits. The deeply layered casts of these films and shows suggest something of an employment agency for an industry turning out more performers than it has room for in the latest Marvel flick. The Afterparty doesn’t really get into stunt casting until the meta-conclusion of its last episode, “”Vivian and Zoe”.
As fun as the first season of The Afterparty was, few people likely expected to see more of it. The series was so self-contained, neatly executed, but non-sensational that it seemed likely to live unnoticed on Apple TV’s underpopulated site for years, occasionally attracting viewers who weren’t sure what to do once Ted Lasso was done. That is, at least until the day Apple decides spending $1 billion a year on streaming content (some estimates suggest even higher costs) was not the greatest value-add and blips the entire corpus of work into nonexistence.
Shows like The Afterparty will probably not even get greenlit in a few years. Once the streaming services start merging and slashing production schedules, things are more likely to revert to the televisual mean: Simple, easily replicated formulas generated on an industrial scale. (Tiffany Haddish in a Murder, She Wrote reboot, with self-contained mysteries solved in a half-hour, sprinkled with a handful of slightly self-aware jokes to pretend at relevance? That will get picked up for 30 episodes.) An odd, ornately designed, low-key funny, and highly expensive concept like The Afterparty is unlikely to be seen as a good investment in the near future.
Enjoy shows like this while you can. They might not seem like necessary viewing, but their amusing pointlessness is what makes them necessary.