The following contains spoilers for The Afterparty S1E5 “High School” (written by Nicole Delaney and directed by Christopher Miller), S1E6 “Zoe” (written by Phil Lord & Rachel Smith and directed by Christopher Miller), S1E7 “Danner” (written by Anthony King & Christopher Miller and directed by Christopher Miller), and The Afterparty Season 1 Finale, Episode 8, “Maggie” (written and directed by Christopher Miller)
The Afterparty Season 1 finale, “Maggie” wrapped up the initial season of the comedic parody series from the mind of Christopher Miller with a nice, moving, bow. The best parts about the series were in how seriously it took the characters. Despite being envisioned as a parody, and really doing a great job at the specificity of spoofing different genres and perspectives, the entire creative team still realized that it is essential to keep the ideas grounded in meaningful moments.
It is likely that much of the success of the storytelling is due to the series being entirely Miller’s idea. The basic concept is one he has been toying with for years and at an earlier point in the development was going to be a feature film he planned to write and direct. His idea from the beginning was to tell a murder mystery in the Roshomon style and to set it at a high school reunion.
Now the show was just picked up for a second season, which will likely bring back just Tiffany Haddish. But the whole first season stuck to its focus. Due to that singular focus, The Afterparty was able to tell a lot of individual stories and was free to do them in unique ways, without losing sight of the central throughline and characters.
The key to this was the way that the show featured a strong central cast and did a great job building those characters throughout the season. Aniq (Sam Richardson) was both a solid romantic lead and also a hilarious comedic presence. Zoe (Zoe Chao) turned out to have a great deal of depth to go with her manic charm. Even characters like Brett (Ike Barinholtz) and Chelsea (Ilana Glazer) got enough of a spotlight with the individual episodes that featured each that the audience could really understand and identify with them. And then, of course, it turned out there was far more to Ben Schwartz’s Yasper than we anticipated. Xavier (Dave Franco) though… that guy was a tool and I think many of the characters are (Jean Ralphio singing) “Glaaaaad he’s deaddddd!”
The secondary characters didn’t have much development or intrigue around them, but each of them really got to shine at least a few times. The always spectacular Tiya Sircar almost stole the show in the finale as Jennifer #1 showed off her own, less than spectacular, detective skills. Jennifer #2 (Ayden Mayeri) barely got anything to do all season beyond the joke of being “identical” to Jennifer #1 and the mystery of her disappearance, but she was still pretty effective in the limited time. Indigo (Genevieve Angelson) and Ned (Kelvin Yu) were both incredibly hilarious as their one-note characters. And Indigo’s short “art house film” story from the pilot may have been my favorite of all the parodies.
Miller kept the focus on the parody too, making sure that each diversion was actually effective. In order to work, especially in as long a form as an entire television season, parody has to be both grounded and specific. As the season wound on, The Afterparty was able to stay both.
Episode 5, “High School” was able to do what really has to happen in the middle of a season like this and shook up the concept. By focusing on Walt, who is always invisible and forgotten by the others, the show was able to bring all the characters together, and instead of getting what would have been a pretty sad and pathetic view of the reunion from his perspective (seriously, his night was quite sad) the series turned into a high school party movie.
This led to a Can’t Hardly Wait style coming of age story through the eyes of our main cast. Sam Richardson and Ben Schwartz while they don’t at all look like they could be in high school definitely both have the affable childlike charisma that makes them perfect to play those characters on TV. By the end of “High School” when Xavier betrays Aniq and Aniq goes to jail we also really get a sense of the stakes and why Aniq hates the performer so much. The consequences of what Xavier did to Aniq could have broken him—and this is the moment I started to fear that Aniq was actually the killer—but thankfully it didn’t.
While the other characters are pretty different depending upon the context, Jamie Demetriou plays Walt the same way no matter who is telling the tale. Somehow here, he becomes sidelined even in the story he is telling. His inability to hold his own and his resentment of that are what make him a plausible suspect. As each story builds, even as we learn why they are claiming to be innocent, the audience is still given enough clues to allow each character to remain a plausible suspect.
Even Zoe is a suspect. In the pilot, I was worried that Zoe was not going to get enough focus to exist in her own right, but the rest of the season allowed her to really become a fully realized character. As the focus of the animated Episode 6, “Zoe,” Zoe’s presence is felt with even more force. Zoe’s different inner selves are presented as battling for control of her consciousness. Personally, my favorites were probably “Stoner Zoe” and “Mama Bear Zoe”, but each of them was presented with flair and distinction.
The animation was done by ShadowMachine, the company that also animated BoJack Horseman and the attention to detail that company brings to their work was on full display. The character and production design were highly stylized but matched up super well with everything else going on in the show. Even the choice to have Zoe’s story be animated was character-centric as it tied into her ambitions as an artist. The whole story was something she could have created and it really helped to deepen Zoe as a character. It also allowed for the very real possibility that this mother and artist, with her tiny rage demon inside, may have also been the murderer.
Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) also gets a spotlight episode. In a police procedural, we learn about her entire career up until this point. In the vein of the best detective stories, she is, of course, both brilliant and underrespected. Figuring out this case is as important to Danner as it is to Aniq, Brett, Zoe, or any of the suspects. Having finally heard all of the stories, Danner is ready to reveal who the killer is. But, in another nod to the classic tropes of such mysteries, she sets things up as a trap first.
The first act of The Afterparty Season 1 finale focuses on Maggie (Emily Carganilla), Zoe and Brett’s daughter. Maggie has been in the car for most of the night, so she saw things that others did not, and Danner knows it. The resulting scene is less a specific homage to any other film tropes and plays out more like Michael Pena’s Luis telling stories in Ant-Man. This allows the pace to be really funny and the tone silly for these scenes as Maggie narrates the voices of the characters (and some are replaced by puppets). Carganilla is also funny and quite good, especially when paired with Barrineholtz. The father-daughter buddy dynamic from his version of the story remains on display here.
Walt remains the classic suspect for a story like this. He had the motive, the time, and his character never broke free to create any emotional connections. Which also would have made it a disappointment if he had turned out to be the guilty party. Neither the other characters nor the audience has any connection to the character. Which, while being a fun joke, also means the character being the killer wouldn’t have packed any emotional stakes. For a moment it seems like she might point the finger at Zoe, but thankfully that angle is not covered for long. It would have been a strangely sad ending for a show this fun to hinge on a young mother being the killer.
Danner eventually says Brett had to have been the killer and it could have rung true. Brett was the “the hothead” who wanted to start fights and was angry at Xavier for making advances at Zoe. But it also felt wrong that he would be accused; he has done a bad thing and is a pretty bad guy but it is established (especially in her own cute short account of the night) that he loves his daughter Maggie and would not have wanted to be torn apart from her. This was just a ploy though, to get Aniq to show his cards.
Once again The Afterparty had established plenty of ways Aniq could have done this, particularly as his grudge against Xavier was deepest of all. The ultimate modern television moment is the Hero deconstructed, the person we are following and rooting for brought low. The Afterparty Season 1 finale could have chosen this one last genre to emulate. But it didn’t, Aniq acknowledges that Brett could not have been the killer, but also doesn’t incriminate himself. He didn’t do it, his best friend did.
Yes, dear beloved Yasper, the singing clown and supportive friend, is the killer. Ben Schwartz is great in these final scenes as he shows a slightly darker side to the character without invalidating anything we saw previously. Yasper did murder Xavier but that doesn’t make him more competent or less cartoonish. As in life, it is possible for a character to be both things. Danner, in meticulous Columbo-like detail, recounts all the clues that point to him as the killer. Haddish is also great at the turn from bumbling investigator to pure, confident, detective. She knows she has her man and he won’t get away. Yasper is the perfect character to have as the murderer too. We got to know and love him, and he is connected to the others deeply, but his downfall is not as sad as Zoe, Brett, or Aniq’s would have been.
It also brings him what he always wanted, fame. As we fade to black on the series Yasper is put into a police car shouting his signature hype-phrase (the phrase Xavier was going to steal that led to his murder) “How great is this party?” In the end, it may not have been great, but it was quite fun.