It got buried by the SAG-AFTRA strike news, but The Afterparty returned this week, with the first two episodes of season two premiering on Apple TV+. Sam Richardson returns as Aniq, the well-meaning yet hapless suspect of a murder mystery taking place during an afterparty. In season one, Aniq was suspected of murdering an old high school chum at his reunion’s afterparty. In season two, he is no longer a suspect, but is once again entangled in murder and mystery after the groom at a wedding he’s attending dies. Zoë Chao is also back as Zoe, Aniq’s high school crush and now official girlfriend. Tiffany Haddish rounds out the returning cast as Detective Danner, who has since left the police force in order to write a tell-all about the murder of popstar Xavier.
The wedding in question is that of Zoe’s sister, Grace (Poppy Liu), and Edgar (Zach Woods), a tech billionaire. Grace and Edgar had a whirlwind romance and are something of a mis-matched couple, as Grace is an antiquarian and loves all things vintage, while Edgar is a tech bro trying to “bio-hack” his body so he can live to be 140 years old before uploading his consciousness to the cloud (super specific death plan, my guy!). Liu and Woods are great additions to the cast. Liu embodies the sweetness yet latent stubbornness of a younger sister with an overly invested older sibling, while Woods is perfect as a tech weirdo (unsurprising coming from a cast member of Silicon Valley).
The rest of the ensemble includes John Cho as Ulysses, Zoe and Grace’s fun uncle—or “funcle”—Ken Jeong as their father, Feng, and Vivian Wu as their mother, Vivian. Elizabeth Perkins stars as Edgar’s emotionally distant mother, Isabel, and Anna Konkle appears as his oddball sister, Hannah. Paul Walter Hauser is on hand as Grace’s ex, Travis, and Jack Whitehall stars as Edgar’s obviously shady business partner, Sebastian. It pains me to say it, but I do not love any of these characters as immediately and deeply as I love Jamie Demetriou as Walter from season one. The lack of Walter is keenly felt.
The Afterparty’s concept is that each episode is done in a different cinematic style, told from the perspective of a different character. Episode one follows Aniq through “The Sequel”, which is the most straightforward telling of the events of the fateful wedding night, except for how everything centers on Aniq and his attempts to win over Zoe’s family. Episode two focuses on Grace and is told in the style of a period romance, particularly copping from 2005’s Pride & Prejudice. One of the most fun things about The Afterparty is observing the small details of how each character remembers certain things differently. For instance, in Aniq’s telling, Grace’s wedding dress is a slightly frumpy old dress with a plain headband. In Grace’s version, it’s a delicate vintage garment with a flowery diadem. Later episodes further expand on this shifting perspective to varying degrees of humorous effect.
As great as it is to see Sam Richardson as a leading man (see also: Werewolves Within), at least in the first two episodes, The Afterparty doesn’t quite match the energy and comedy of the first season. The setup is solid, pitting warmhearted Grace against Edgar’s cold, wealthy family, and Elizabeth Perkins is, so far, the season standout as Isabel, whom she plays as an almost-parody of a Dynasty villainess. But keeping Aniq and Zoe as the center of the narrative forces the story into some manufactured moments, and you can’t help but wonder if approaching this as a full anthology, with an entirely new set of characters, wouldn’t have been better. The first episode acknowledges this by parodying the repetitive nature of sequels, but pointing out the flaw isn’t the same thing as addressing it, and The Afterparty doesn’t actually solve how repetitive it feels at times, despite the multi-genre format.
But the mystery is solid. Edgar’s death is just bizarre enough to tantalize, and the concept of pitting two families against each other has a lot of comedic and dramatic promise. By the end of episode two, patterns emerge from both repeated details and those slight discrepancies that hint at the larger truth obscured by a single individual’s limited perspective. That is what season one did so well, solving the mystery of Xavier’s murder by piecing it together through each retelling of events until the sum total was revealed. Season two might not have quite the same magic—or Walt—but it still presents an intriguing mystery with a cast of dubious characters, and a charming leading man in Sam Richardson. It just needs more Walt.
This review was published during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of writers and actors. The Afterparty episodes 1 and 2 are streaming now on Apple TV+, with new episodes arriving on Wednesdays.