Apple TV+’s murder mystery/comedy The Afterparty soldiers on this week, investigating drunken party girl (and former valedictorian) Chelsea.
The genre-hopping show, which made a fitful start with last week’s first three mirthless episodes, has no better luck with this week’s half-hearted, half-remembered crime story than it did as a poorly thought-out musical or rom-com.
At this point, it’s a genuine question whether the writers and producers knew what they were doing when The Afterparty snagged a full-season order. Not even the ordinarily reliable Tiffany Haddish seems to be having any fun in this blinkered affair.
The Afterparty recap: ‘Chelsea’
Aniq (Sam Richardson) and Yasper (Ben Schwartz) have been listening in on the interrogations, trying to piece together the murder on their own. The next up for Danner to interview is drugged-up, alcoholic mess Chelsea (Ilana Glazer). She had motive for days: Her life was well on track until Xavier ruined it.
Since then, Chelsea’s become a pill-popping wastrel. Everyone pities her or thinks she’s crazy. She also had an affair with Zoe’s (Zoe Chao) ex-husband, Brett (Ike Barinholtz). Chelsea wanted to get back at Xavier for starting her on her downward spiral. But did she want to kill him? Of course not. Or so she says.
She recounts the evening as a series of jump scares and red herrings like the heroine of her own airport paperback mystery, or the movies made from them. Everyone else looks crazy, violent and vindictive in her telling.
The woman in the TV show
It’s weird to me, though less of a problem than the rest of the episode, that the writers have Glazer say she’s a Collective Soul fan. I graduated in 2007 and barely knew Collective Soul, buying the band’s last popular album when I was about 10 because I couldn’t get the single “Heavy” out of my head. I was, as if it needed to be said, the only kid in my class to have the record or care about the band, and everyone made fun of me for owning the CD.
It strikes me that the writers have done very little to coherently create an identity for these people beyond cultural signifiers that are obviously the writers’, not the characters. All the movie references the characters constantly make don’t at all cohere to what we know about these people.
Chelsea’s story takes the form of a crude crime story, in the vein of the truly terrible The Woman in the Window or the somehow worse The Girl on the Train. But again, the shots taken at the genre prove weak.
The Afterparty director Chris Miller just kind of turns the lighting down low here, doing very little to prove he knows how to shoot a crime film, or even what you might be trying to achieve psychologically with the grammar of a crime film.
Netflix just released its own Woman in the Window/Sharper Objects parody, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window. It stars Kristen Bell and doesn’t look any more carefully directed than The Afterparty. But at least it seems to be funny and have a point.
The casting is not killing it
Helping things not a bit is Glazer’s central performance. Glazer is 34 now, and has been enormously successful since Broad City, the show she starred in and created with Abbi Jacobsen, debuted when she was 26. She just can’t convincingly portray a broken and damaged woman who’s been collapsing since 2006. Playing someone who isn’t a madcap free spirit isn’t something she’s cut out for.
Glazer admirably tried to branch out after Broad City painted her into a corner because her character and her personality seemed so simpatico in so many ways. The trouble is, she immediately dove into playing damaged characters at the nexus of conspiracies, in this and the dreadfully reviewed False Positive.
Ethan Hawke says sometimes the biggest problem an actor can have is not training an audience to expect departures from their favorite performances. Well, Glazer failed to prepare me for the idea that she’s a few minutes from a full collapse, even in a comedic context.
The Afterparty: A comedy with no jokes
That’s the problem with The Afterparty: It is and it isn’t a comedy, so it won’t ever just tell the jokes it has in mind, if it indeed knows why anything it’s doing could be funny.
What is the joke of this episode? That Glazer thinks she’s in a mystery? Because she kind of is! There’s a dead body, after all. Playing up her fears in a convoluted mystery just states what we know with worse lighting and different performances, but that’s not a joke. It’s not compelling enough to work as a murder story, either, so it’s in this odd middle ground.
“You see how this looks like a crime series, right?” Yes. Yes I do. It just isn’t funny, nor is it scary or thrilling or even for a minute engrossing. I saw what happened, I know Chelsea didn’t do it, and frankly I don’t care anymore who did.
Is that it? Is that all this show has? Vague notions of generic identity that come and go having done nothing but restate what we already know? The Afterparty better think of a new trick, or give me some new clues, or have Larry David stop by or something, because I am moving past bored into angry.
Watch The Afterparty on Apple TV+
New episodes of The Afterparty arrive on Fridays.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.