Okay, so there’s a dead body. The deceased is a rich pop star. He dies during a party at his seaside mansion, and attending the party were his high school friends. The occasion was a high school reunion that took place earlier in the evening. What we’ve got is a whodunnit.
The Afterparty (streams on AppleTV+) takes everything in a different direction than you might expect. Oh, yes, there’s a murder mystery, but this is a comedy series, and a very funny one. Only with the perfect talent involved can a comedy and murder mystery unfold simultaneously, and the talent is here, splendidly connected to the sheer weirdness of the material.
The jokes come fast and furious, some material is improvised, but it sure clicks. From the get-go you can feel the comic mayhem that’s about to descend. The first police officer on the scene is Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish, having the time of her life), accompanied by cop-partner Detective Culp (John Early from Search Party). They’re told to wait until a top cop from Los Angeles arrives, but they plunge ahead. As they soon discover, almost everyone in the house had a motive for killing pop star Xavier (Dave Franco.) “Here are some messy white folks,” announces Danner, surveying the scene.
At first the focus is on Aniq (Sam Richardson, from Veep) a shy guy who went to the reunion in hopes of reconnecting with his high school crush Zoe (Zoe Chao), but the pop-star guy kept getting in the way. Then there’s Walt (Jamie Demetriou, star and creator of Stath Lets Flats), whom nobody can remember from school, and seems an awkward nerd. Demetriou, playing a guy who is a nobody, manages to steal many scenes. Each of the eight episodes (three now, with weekly episodes coming on Fridays) dramatizes the evening’s events from the perspective of a single character and each is done in a stylized manner to suit the character.
This wildly ambitious but masterfully done series is the work of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (The Lego Movie, The Last Man on Earth), with delicious input from the actors improvising material. What they’ve all created is a knockout comedy with that peculiar murder-mystery underpinning it. It’s ideal mid-winter escapism, a delight.
Also airing/streaming this weekend
In From the Cold (streams on Netflix) is a new spy-thriller series that is bonkers but not in an entirely bad way. It’s broadly done, without much subtlety and yet it breezes along, not quite the fun escapism of The Afterparty, yet enjoyable. We start in Madrid, Spain where Jenny (Margarita Levieva), is accompanying her daughter Becca (Lydia Fleming) for a figure-skating event. The tension is ordinary: Becca thinks Mom is over-protective and hopelessly uncool. Next thing you know, Mom is targeted by a sinister dude, knocked out with a smoke-bomb thingy and wakes up surrounded by many sinister dudes. It is put to her that she has a past as a lethal Russian spy. She denies it but her skills in escaping the situation suggest otherwise.
Anyway, she is told she’s back in the game, this time operating for a (possibly rogue) CIA fella named Chauncey Lew (Cillian O’Sullivan). Assassinations and mayhem ensue, and part of the storyline is Jenny’s past as Anya, an assassin known as the Whisperer. Sometimes silly and sometimes greatly entertaining, the eight-part series is a fine diversion.
Ice and Fire: Tracking Canada’s Climate Crisis (on The Nature of Things, the CBC, Friday, 9 p.m. and streams on CBC Gem) is very much a down-home look at climate change. Backyard ice rinks across Canada are slowly disappearing, we’re told. An elderly woman reminisces about skating every winter on a local river in Ontario that now hasn’t frozen for years. Meanwhile in B.C. there are unusual heatwaves and flooding. The perspective here is on ordinary life and how that is impacted. While the term “climate catastrophe” is used, the tone is more plain-speaking and helpful.
Finally, The Gig is Up (Sunday, the CBC, 8 p.m.), briefly reviewed here when airing on the documentary channel, gets a deserved prime-time slot on the CBC’s main network. Made by Canadian Shannon Walsh, it’s a riveting, disturbing look at the gig economy on four continents. While these gig-economy jobs are a lifeline for some, they are a perilous development. As one observer says here, for many workers, soon, “the Middle Ages will look like paradise.” It’s a don’t-miss doc.
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