Rian Johnson’s Knives Out reminded us that there’s more than one way to tell a good old-fashioned whodunnit. Since the movie’s release in 2019, we’ve been blessed with two more humorous takes on the murder mystery genre: Hulu’s true-crime-inspired Only Murders in the Building and Apple TV+’s genre-bending The Afterparty. The latter series wrapped its first season (Season 2 has already been ordered) on Friday in satisfying fashion. And despite the fact the story was born more than a decade ago in the mind of series creator and director Chris Miller, the show seems to have, somehow, also learned an important lesson from Johnson’s film and applied it to positive effect.
After Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) completes her investigation into the death of Xavier (Dave Franco), she reveals she has narrowed the suspect field down to three possible culprits: Walt (Jamie Demetriou), Brett (Ike Barinholtz), and her original suspect, Aniq (Sam Richardson). Walt is discarded as a suspect as quickly as people forget he exists, and Aniq soon realizes that Brett couldn’t have killed Xavier because he saw him heading toward his car at the supposed time of death. From there, the pieces slowly begin to fall into place for Aniq, who remembers that Xavier’s closet door had been closed in every story he overheard except one. Together with Danner, he reveals that the killer has to be Yasper (Ben Schwartz).
This figurative unmasking is not surprising in the sense that it’s narratively hard to believe. The breadcrumbs and clues are all there the way they are in every good whodunnit. With the benefit of hindsight, we can also see that Yasper’s attempt to help Aniq clear his name by identifying the killer is him attempting to shift blame away from himself and onto others. But as Danner says, he is the person at the party who is most unhappy with how his life has turned out, though he does hide it well beneath a veil of infectious energy and friendliness. And this is why the killer being Yasper, specifically as portrayed by Ben Schwartz, is both surprising and clever.
Like the reveal of the devious mastermind in Knives Out, the discovery here that Yasper killed Xavier works as well as it does because of the actor inhabiting the role. While Schwartz doesn’t carry the burden of perceived goodness after a decade of playing Captain America as Chris Evans did, he is perhaps best known for playing goofy, scene-stealing sidekicks and scheming, but ultimately harmless fools no one takes seriously. He’s also voiced multiple characters who conjure positive imagery and feelings. Yasper initially appears to be yet another one of these characters. He’s not The Star, he’s kind of dorky, and he’s a little over the top (though not in an offensive way). As a viewer, you’re charmed by his enthusiasm, his support of Aniq, and because “Yeah Sure Whatever” is a great song. But it’s also possible that we like the character—and thus are unwilling to believe he’s capable of murder—because we like Schwartz and think we know who he is.
The actor’s persona on social media, in addition to his career on-screen and as a comedian, contributes to a public perception of him being the funny kid, the good guy, someone who would be the life of the party, not the person who pushes someone off a balcony during the festivities. This likely unconsciously influences our expectations of the characters he plays. Because although we instinctively know actors are not their characters, a little bit of a connection between them sometimes remains. So it’s possible to read Schwartz’s casting as an attempt to use our preconceived notions and parasocial relationships against us, obscuring what was in front of us because of what we wanted or expected to see from the man who once played a character who famously went to his fake funeral and stupidly got caught.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Schwartz confirmed that Miller had written the part with him in mind. And when asked why the character of Yasper appealed to him, he said, “One of the cool things [Miller] said was, ‘People won’t see it coming. They’ll just be assuming you’re a Jean-Ralphio goofball.’” He was right.
But perhaps the best choice Miller and the writers made in revealing Yasper as the killer was to not immediately have the character become someone else once the discovery happened. Too often, when a villain is unmasked by the hero, writers flip a switch on the person’s personality. Yasper, thankfully, remains Yasper through it all. He first attempts to deflect blame, not willing to admit that Xavier embarrassed him or hurt him in any way, insisting that they were friends and that he had no reason to kill him. And although he does eventually get a little defiant once his pain and guilt are laid bare for everyone to see, his reactions and behavior are all still in character.
The pièce de résistance, though, is Yasper’s instantaneous reaction to the crowd gathering outside of Xavier’s home as he is being led away by the police. He realizes he has a captive audience thanks to his connection to Xavier. He is finally famous and even attempts to promote his music. Unfortunately for him, he’s not going to be known for what he had always wanted to be known for, but at least he’s still Yasper.
All eight episodes of The Afterparty are now streaming on Apple TV+.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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