The Afterparty Season Two Serves Up a Sapphic Wes Anderson Spoof

This The Afterparty season two review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors who are currently on strike, television series like this one would not be possible, and Autostraddle is grateful for the artists who do this work. This review contains spoilers.

The Afterparty is back for a second season of murder mystery antics, and while we’re only four episodes into the saga — which centers a mysterious death following a wedding — it’s off to a delicious start. For starters, season two already has a leg up on season one in that it has gut cops from its premise entirely. After a weirdly copaganda-heavy first season (which otherwise had a lot of strengths!) the anthology series returns with Tiffany Haddish’s Danner no longer a cop, instead an aspiring true crime author. You know, that classic pipeline.

If you haven’t delved into The Afterparty yet, season one takes place at a, well, afterparty following a high school reunion where the host ends up dead. Danner arrives and asks all the attendees to play their “mind movie” of the evening — basically how the night unfolded from their perspective. Where The Afterparty puts its twist on this conventional whodunnit setup is with those “mind movies.” The episodes each take on the aesthetics, structure, and tones of a specific genre, spoofing everything from rom-coms to cop shows (yielding the worst episode of season one) to Fast & Furious-style action movies. Season two presents an all-new murder mystery, set after a wedding. And while some characters carry over — Danner, Sam Richardson’s Aniq, and Zoe Chao’s Zoe — it’d be perfectly doable to just skip season one altogether and start with season two. Only brief references are made to the previous season, but it really does function like an anthology series, starting fresh.

Among the new characters, there are standout performances from queer and nonbinary Dead Ringers actor Poppy Liu, Pen15 and The Drop‘s Anna Konkle, and iconic Mean Mommy portrayer Elizabeth Perkins, who yes, is indeed playing a Mean Mommy once again. Aniq and Zoe have begun dating since season one and arrive at the start of the series at the estate of Zoe’s sister Grace’s (Poppy Liu) husband-to-be (Zach Woods). When her husband and his beloved pet lizard are found dead the morning after the wedding, Grace becomes the top suspect. But Danner shows up and proves everyone has something to hide, season two once again unfolding in perspective-switching mini movies that take on parodies that fit each character perfectly. In episode four, Anna Konkle’s Hannah, the adopted sister of the deceased, becomes the main character in a Wes Anderson spoof full of bright colors, on-screen text, quirky characters, and bouncy music.

I’m always saying every Wes Anderson movie would be better with a heaping scoop of lesbian chaos on top. Okay, fine, I’ve never said this, but it is now my platform after having watched Hannah’s episode. In a reveal foreshadowed deftly in the episodes that precede it, it turns out Hannah and Grace had a month-long love affair leading up to the wedding. I’ve written before about how this is one of my favorite configurations of a love triangle: a brother and a sister who both love the same woman. For Hannah’s mind movie, we go all the way back to her childhood, to the origins of her obsession with bizarre hobbies like exotic horticulture, archery, taxidermy, and collecting antique typewriters. Hannah is, in Jughead parlance, a weirdo, she’s weird. She likes esoteric, whimsical things. The Wes Andersonification of her sprawling queer romance is apt for who she is, and it makes for a comedic episode, yes, but also a very immersive and occasionally strikingly earnest one.

That’s my frustration with a lot of Wes Anderson spoofs, which crop up on TikTok a lot these days: They’re driven merely by his imitable aesthetics and not at all by the heart of his stories, which beats loud! I found Asteroid City to be a deeply sincere film, and I think all of Anderson’s best movies have this playful quality, sure, but also a lot of humanity and emotion to them. The Afterparty — and Anu Valia’s direction in particular — understands that with this parody. It’s funny and bright and over-the-top, but it’s also a real, sentimental story about unrequited queer love. What Hannah feels for Grace is so much bigger than what Grace feels for her, and Hannah ultimately agrees to let her go when she realizes how much her brother loves Grace. In a montage, we see Grace and Hannah fall repeatedly into bed each other, each time Grace saying they have to stop and Hannah agreeing, only to then fall into bed together once more, every day for 30 days, on-screen text keeping count. This could have easily been played just for laughs, but there’s something more than that to it. Grace and Hannah never fall into bed in the exact same way, their intimacy growing with every kiss, Liu and Konkle bringing depth and specificity to this love affair.

In fact, I think the romance actually works better here than in Grace’s episode, the second of the season. Hers takes on the dressings of a Jane Austen romance, and while the visual details are immersive, it lacks the same level of layers as this parody and ends up feeling way too drawn-out as a result. “Hannah” is the shortest episode of the season so far, and I think that brevity works to its advantage. The joke never goes stale, but the joke also doesn’t feel like the primary driving force of the episode. Of course I’m biased; “Grace” depicts the unfolding of a straight romance, while “Hannah” explores a queer one. But I still think there’s something genuinely more effective about the way Wes Anderson stylings in “Hannah” become a fertile playground for romance and for deepening our understanding of these characters and their potential motives and emotional stakes than the Austen episode ever achieves. The romance in “Grace” feels like it’s constructed just to fit the rules and form of the parody, while the romance in “Hannah” — fraught as it may be — feels like it exists even outside of the episode’s form, working with it rather than just being a product of it.

You believe Hannah’s broken heart by the end of it. I don’t think she killed her brother, but I do think the emotional stakes of this wedding were very high for her! And I do hope we see more of the Hannah/Grace conflict play out in the present timeline, especially given the context of Grace only considering it a fling and Hannah clearly having much more intense feelings. But I do get the impression Grace only said that to her sister Zoe to downplay the significance of the affair and of her feelings for her dead husband’s sister. I’m ready for Hannah to bring some of her quirky queer chaos to the present timeline.

If you’ve got theories about who the killer is, hit me with them! And I’ll write up future episodes of The Afterparty season two as well if there ends up being significant queer stuff.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 816 articles for us.

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