"The Afterparty" is now streaming. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
NEW YORK, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The stars of the new eight-episode Apple TV+ comedy, The Afterparty, say a high school reunion is the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery because they can be fraught with rivalries, old grudges and unrealistic expectations.
Created and directed by showrunner Chris Miller and produced by Phil Lord, the series debuts Friday, and could be favorably compared to recent hilarious whodunnits like Only Murders in the Building and The Flight Attendant.
The Afterparty follows Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) as she investigates the death of pop music star Xavier (Dave Franco) at a post-reunion bash at his beach mansion in California.
Playing Xavier's former classmates and potential suspects in his homicide are Sam Richardson, Zoë Chao, Ben Schwartz, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer and Jamie Demetriou.
"So much of our identity is built or based on who you were in high school. So going back to a high school reunion brings up all of these emotions and memories and insecurities," Richardson told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"A murder happening there? It could be anyone because everyone is going through a whole journey."
Added Schwartz: "People come with baggage that everyone knows. You can't hide when they know who you were as a kid, where you started. It's a beautiful place to get into a murder mystery."
Each episode is told from a different character's point of view as he or she pleads their case to Danner. The result is a delightful mix of genres that shifts depending on who the narrator is.
Schwartz's optimistic wannabe musician, Yasper, tells his story through high-energy musical numbers, for example.
"You get to play all these different genres. You get to do an action movie, then you get to do a romantic comedy," Schwartz said of the show's unique narrative structure. "It was really fun to flex our muscles and to shade our characters by seeing how other characters see us."
Richardson said it is like replaying these scenes through "different lenses."
"You established yourself at the core, but now you are tweaking these things or heightening these things to match the genre and also this person's interpretation of you," he said.
Richardson's character, Aniq, is a hopeless romantic and escape room designer who loves to solve puzzles.
"This is the most important puzzle of his life and he has his best friend Yasper there to help him through it," Richardson said.
Aniq and Xavier are competing for the affections of the newly single Zoe (Chao), while Yasper is begging Xavier to collaborate with him on a new song.
Further complicating matters, Aniq is drugged at the party and passes out on the floor, making him irresistible prey for his former classmates, who draw all over his face and neck with magic markers. As a result, Aniq is seen covered with graffiti throughout much of the show.
"They used stamps so [the marks] would be exactly the same every time," Richardson said of creating his bizarre look. "We had to oil my face and use this solution. It took an hour every day to get it off. That was more than I bargained for."
Richardson recalled occasionally forgetting his appearance and feeling shocked when he caught a glimpse of his face in a mirror.
Schwartz said it was difficult acting opposite Richardson on those days, especially when his co-star was supposed to be anxious or sincere.
"I was like, 'You know you have kitten whiskers, right?'" Schwartz quipped.
"The first time it was revealed, that we saw that stuff on him, it was so funny, but I felt so bad for him because I knew he was going to have to get cleaned up every night and it was going to add another 45 minutes to every freaking day, and then there are scenes where he gets beer poured on him and I'm like: 'Oh, Sam! My wonderful Sam!'"
Richardson admitted, "I'll do anything for comedy"
Chao and Barinholtz think a lot of viewers will relate to their characters, Zoe and Brett, since reunions can be awkward for former couples like them.
"Zoe talks about how Brett is the only person she's kissed for 17 years, and she's now at this transition of her life where she is estranged from her husband," Chao said.
"She's trying to figure out how not to play it safe anymore and what this next chapter is going to look like. She's really excited about this reunion, but it's a bummer that her dud of an ex-husband is there."
"He has every right to be there. It's his high school, too. And some of his friends. Don't take that away from him," Barinholtz playfully teased Chao.
The actors liked having the chance to play their characters not only as other people see them, but also as they regard themselves.
"OK, yes, this guy is a jerk and toxic a little bit and very stupid and full of regret, but, at the end of the day, he is just trying to keep his family together," Barinholtz said of Brett, a devoted dad to the young daughter he shares with Zoe.
"People see he's got some humanity, and that gives me permission to be very, very stupid in the later episodes. That's where I really thrive. That's my sweet spot."
Chao's episode is animated and allows her to express how she is dealing with the passage of time, as well as her feelings for Brett and Aniq, the lab partner she had a crush on, but never dated in high school.
"It was the perfect medium for Zoe because she is an artist," Chao said of the cartoon episode.
"She is struggling with feeling disconnected from all the things that make her tick. She is not practicing her art, so to see her brought to life by drawing feels right," she noted.
"From a performance standpoint, it's just so cool to explore the many different facets of a character and to get into a booth and not care what this looks like while I really go for it."
The house created for the show was spacious, comfortable and easy for the cast and crew to move around in. Its unique, modern design and the narcissism of its dead owner, which was fully on display, also subtly influenced the storytelling, Barinholtz said.
"Visually, it looks cool, and the fact is, everywhere you look, your eye is going to naturally be drawn a picture of Dave Franco, while we are all talking about who killed him," he said.
Miller described Franco as a lovable and generous guy in real life, who initially was concerned Xavier would come across as a "complete heel."
"His reaction was: 'I really want to do it. I think I can do a great job, but I want to look for ways that we can make this guy a human being and make you feel bad for him and make you not want him to have been murdered,'" Miller said.
"He brought a lot of vulnerability and insecurity to a character who could have just been a narcissistic jackass. By the end of it, you're like: 'This poor guy. He just wanted people to like him and he didn't know how to do it.'"
Miller said he grew up watching Peter Falk in Columbo and thought Haddish would be ideal to play that type of detective - someone who is a lot smarter than people give her credit for.
"He wanted people to underestimate him because he wanted people to slip up," Miller said of the Columbo character.
"That's the thing about Tiffany. People have been underestimating her her whole life. She's so sharp and so savvy and so observant all the time."
Her Detective Danner is chatty and gossipy in a manner people don't take seriously and they ultimately feel loose enough to be honest.
"The whole time, she is paying attention and putting things together, and knows more than she is letting on," Miller said. "She's just got this magnetic spark that is undeniable. When she is in a zone and feeling the moment, there is no one funnier and there is nobody more alive."