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‘The Afterparty’ turns its comedic murder mystery into more of an afterthought

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Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Telling stories from shifting perspectives a la “Rashomon” has become pretty commonplace in premium-TV and streaming, from Showtime’s “The Affair” to Netflix’s “Clickbait.” Enter “The Afterparty,” an Apple TV+ comedy series with one murder, plenty of suspects and minimal intrigue — the sort of show that’s modestly entertaining but doesn’t bring enough to the party.

Produced by “The Lego Movie” team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (with Miller directing), the eight-part show begins with the death of a famed celebrity singer (Dave Franco) during the after-party at a 15-year high-school reunion.

Who might have pushed him to his death? Any one of a number of former classmates appears to harbor a motive, with each spending an episode recounting their story to a detective (Tiffany Haddish) racing to solve the mystery before her boss can dispatch a higher-profile cop to take over the investigation.

The format means seeing events unfolds from different angles, while picking up new bits of information along the way. But the inherent whodunit and evolving trail of breadcrumbs don’t really prove that enticing, with the best material coming from the old high-school crushes, grievances and missed opportunities that get rehashed.

Armed with a good cast that also includes Sam Richardson (“Veep”), Zoë Chao, Ben Schwartz, Ike Barinholtz, Ilana Glazer and Jamie Demetriou, Miller does engage in some amusing flights into the absurd as the different characters — and their sometimes-wild imaginations — take center stage. The more outlandish flourishes range from a fight scene that seemingly goes on for about five minutes to an animated sequence.

Still, not only is the “Rashomon” wrinkle overused (see the recent movie “The Last Duel” as well), but the high-school reunion also feels pretty exhausted as a backdrop — a conceit that offers a built-in excuse for assembling a group of actors who are all roughly the same demographically desirable age. Indeed, Fox tried almost the exact the same premise with the 2005 drama “Reunion,” which didn’t last long enough to finish the story.

So while Apple is promoting the show as “genre-defying,” it’s really more “genre-embracing.” Haddish also seems to be working a little too hard at wringing humor from what could easily be a straight-arrow part, which frankly proves a bit of a distraction from the focus on the victim, his peers and getting to the truth of who murdered him.

Even with its flaws “The Afterparty” goes down easily enough, but as potential binges go, it’s hardly a VIP ticket — less the stuff of appointment viewing than simply, well, an afterthought.

“The Afterparty” premieres Jan. 28 on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: My wife now works for a division of Apple.)

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