Ah, so once again we have the old same-events-shown-through-the-eyes-of-different-characters-because-we’re-all-unreliable-narrators-and-everything-is-always-ultimately-subjective approach to storytelling.
The lighthearted comedy whodunit “The Afterparty” employs what has become a fairly common formal twist, the “Rashomon”-like technique that rejects omniscience and throws a variety of points of view up against one another. “The Affair” used it weekly for dramatic purposes, and a host of other series — “How I Met Your Mother,” “The X-Files,” “All in the Family” — have toyed with it in individual episodes, giving us a collection of untrustworthy narrators and questionable and conflicting facts.
And it works like a charm on the entertainingly playful new Apple TV+ show, which premieres on Friday. “The Afterparty” is set at the after-party of a 15-year high school reunion, where Xavier (Dave Franco), a now-famous and obnoxious Justin Bieber-like pop star, has been murdered. Tiffany Haddish’s detective, with the TV-cop-like name of Danner, shows up on the scene and requires the guests to stay into the morning, to give their statements. In Xavier’s sleek, modern Bay Area home, she sits back, gets her popcorn ready, and listens to what she calls their “mind movies.”
Each of the guests recounts the night’s events to her from their own perspective, one per episode, eight episodes in all (seven of which were made available for review). More cleverly, each episode unfolds in a different genre style, to match the teller’s personality — a rom-com for one, an action thriller for another, and animation for yet another. Show creator and director Christopher Miller takes care to evoke each of the genres vividly and humorously, and yet he also blends them together smoothly so the series doesn’t feel fractured from half-hour to half-hour. The episode featuring Ben Schwartz’s POV is a standout, as his character, wannabe musician Yasper, stars in a musical version of the night (including a “Hamilton” goof with the line, “We all get one shot . . . twice”). Schwartz — he was Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on “Parks and Recreation” — gets to display his broad range of skills and walks away with the show a number of times.
Sam Richardson plays Aniq, the guy everyone, including Detective Danner, thinks must be the murderer. He’s clearly a gentle soul — his “mind movie” is the rom-com, because he has had a long-term crush on former classmate Zoe (Zoë Chao) — but he clearly didn’t like watching Xavier put heavy moves on her throughout the night. Richardson, from “Veep” and “Detroiters,” is one of the show’s anchors, as a reticent, appealingly ordinary guy who has been pulled into a mess, and who is surrounded by a few bigger types, most notably his hyper-extroverted pal Yasper. He’s also feeling the presence of Ike Barinholtz’s Brett, a coarse lug who is Zoe’s ex. In Brett’s mind movie episode, he is an action hero.
The inventive structure distinguishes “The Afterparty,” and the strong ensemble makes it all special. The whodunit, and who actually done it, is always secondary to the comic turns and the antic tone — somewhat in the manner of Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.” They are whofunits™. The cast makes even the silliest gags — one involving a literal pissing contest, another involving handwriting and the spelling of the word diarrhea — into part of the overall good time. Haddish is perfectly cast as the no-baloney, sardonic detective, and John Early is a treat as her persnickety partner. Ilana Glazer plays a little against type, as a quiet one-time valedictorian who has fallen apart emotionally, and Jamie Demetriou works and reworks his character’s single bit — he remembers everyone, no one remembers him — miraculously throughout the season. Like everyone else in “The Afterparty,” he is game for anything.
Starring: Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, Ben Schwartz, Zoë Chao, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer, Jamie Demetriou, Genevieve Angelson, John Early
On: Apple TV+. Premieres Friday