Phil Lord and Chris Miller clue you into their decade-in-the-making whodunit The Afterparty
The Afterparty (TV series)
After more than 10 years, The Afterparty is finally about to start.
A long-simmering passion project for creator Chris Miller, the murder-mystery comedy begins in the aftermath of a high school reunion, with "pop star, actor, and celebrity humanitarian" Xavier (Dave Franco) having been killed during the titular afterparty at his mansion. Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) then sets about interviewing the party guests to determine who the murderer is. (You can watch the trailer for the series, premiering Jan. 28 on Apple TV+, below.)
"Everybody is bringing a lot of historical baggage with them, and that isn't exactly what you might think," Miller tells EW. "The whole idea was to provide a new surprise understanding in every episode of how the dynamics between the characters are different than what you expected."
That seems like plenty to sustain eight episodes of television, but The Afterparty adds one extra twist: Each character's account of the night is told through a different genre — an action movie, a musical, even animation — reflecting their different personalities and views of themselves.
"[Each episode] brings a new filmmaking style into it, and hopefully that helps you understand how everyone sees themselves, and not just what they think their story is, but how they tell it," explains Miller's creative partner Phil Lord, who's an executive producer on the series.
While Miller directed The Afterparty by himself — a first for the 21 Jump Street filmmakers' 20-year-plus career — Lord was involved "every step of the way," the former says. Ahead of the series' debut, the duo spoke exclusively to EW about its long road to television, keeping viewers on their toes, and what makes mysteries a lot like comedies.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell us about the journey The Afterparty has taken to the screen.
CHRIS MILLER: I had the idea for it a little over a decade ago. I wrote a version of it as a movie and sold it to Sony, and they've always been saying, "When are you going to make that movie?" And we've always been busy with a bunch of other things. When it finally came time to look at it again, I realized that the whole multiple-perspectives idea made it feel episodic as a movie, but as an eight-episode series, it could really be its best self.
You two have always directed together; Chris, why did you decide to direct this show solo?
MILLER: Well, since this is an idea that I've been ruminating on for over 10 years, it made natural sense for me to direct it. But with our partnership, like everything we do, this was still an incredibly collaborative effort. Phil was on set for every step of the process, and his wisdom and genius are all over the show.
PHIL LORD: Honestly, it wasn't that different [from our other projects]. For as long as Chris has been writing this, I've been giving notes on it. [Laughs] But this was an idea Chris had for a long time, and given how busy we are, he was by far the best person for the job. He did an awesome job, and it was really fun to support him.
This show has such a terrific ensemble cast. What was it like working with all those actors?
LORD: It's just fun to watch those actors in the same place together. They're all such great actors and improvisers, and you get a real sense that people are playing with one another, and it's really lovely to see. The actors and the filmmaking team drew these really specific people together, and they all have their quirks.
MILLER: It's true, and you can tell how much fun everybody was having when you watch the show. The chemistry between these characters was really exciting. And the great thing about hiring people who are really funny, really smart, and filmmakers in their own right, is that they added so much to the show. It's really hard as an actor to be like, "I'm this character, but I act slightly differently in every episode, because it's a different film genre that's being told from a different person's perspective, so I'm the person that they think I am," and then to do different shades of behavior and intentionality. But all of them were really up for the task, and the work they did was both hilarious and subtle.
How did you arrive at that idea to do each character's story as a different genre? Was that baked in from the beginning or did it come later?
MILLER: It actually evolved. In the early drafts of the movie, everybody was telling a story in their own way of telling it, but the idea of pushing it further came along a little bit later. Once we hit upon the idea of making everybody's point of view incredibly different from each other and a totally distinct genre, it was like the missing piece to make this thing extra special.
Speaking of genre, the show is obviously a comedy, but the murder-mystery element is new territory for your work. Was there anything that you found surprising or challenging about that aspect of the show?
MILLER: One thing that we've learned along the way is that audiences are really savvy, and they have seen a lot of things, so if things become too obvious, then the audience thinks, "Well, it can't be that, because that would be too obvious." So you have to stay a step ahead of the audience, and you have to have a really good understanding of where their heads are at, and never ever think that they're not very smart, because they are.
LORD: It's not an entirely different process than any of our other work, because we put a lot of credence in testing stuff and showing it to friends and remembering that the signal that we send out is only half of the work. The other half is the signal that the audience is receiving and how they are receiving it. So just like you have to see if a joke is landing and creating an involuntary laugh response from someone, you have to see whether these seeds that we're planting are landing with the audience. There's quite a bit of back and forth.
Did those test screenings lead to anything being changed or reworked in the mystery?
MILLER: We definitely adjusted some moments to make sure that things were either more or less clear. I wish I could be more specific. [Laughs] But I would say that, thankfully, most people that we've tested it with did not figure out whodunit, but were very satisfied with the ending because it was always right there in front of them.
Do you think that you planted enough clues that viewers might be able to solve the mystery themselves?
MILLER: Definitely. It's not a satisfying mystery if you don't go, "Oh, I should have seen that. I should have been able to piece that together." That's my favorite kind of mystery, where all the pieces are there if you know where to look. And this is no different.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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A high school reunion turns into a whodunit in this comedic murder mystery from Phil Lord and Chris Miller.