Writer/director Chris Miller, born in Everett and raised in Lake Stevens, has been developing the new Apple TV+ series “The Afterparty” for a decade.
It started as a “Rashomon”-style murder mystery — audiences would see events from each character’s unique point of view — with a comedic twist. Miller, who with creative partner Phil Lord wrote and directed “The Lego Movie” (and co-directed the 2012 film “21 Jump Street”), says he settled on a high school reunion after-party after attending several reunions for Seattle’s Lakeside School, from which he graduated in 1993.
“It really all clicked: That’s a perfect place for a murder to happen because there’s a lot of emotions and a lot of history,” Miller says. “It’s a great group of characters when you get a high school reunion together.”
Streaming Friday, Jan. 28, on Apple TV+, the eight-episode “The Afterparty” follows a detective (Tiffany Haddish) as she investigates the death of pop star Xavier (Dave Franco) after he falls from the balcony of his cliffside mansion. The suspects are played by a who’s who of comedic actors, including Ben Schwartz (“Parks and Recreation”), Ilana Glazer (“Broad City”), John Early (“Search Party”) and Ike Barinholtz (“The Mindy Project”).
Miller, 46, elaborated on how attending Lakeside reunions and associated events sold him on the setting for “The Afterparty.”
“They often have been a weekend type of thing where they’ll do the official [reunion] one night and then they’ll have a thing at a karaoke bar after, and then on the next day they’ll do a family thing, and they really turn into this whole mega-event,” Miller says. “I didn’t bring my kids, but it was interesting to see people as they presented themselves at the first event and then how they were with their whole families on the next day.”
Miller says high school reunions may bring up good memories and regrets and can also be eye-opening experiences.
“Sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this guy was a bully and now I’m seeing him as a husband and father of two with a bunch of his own insecurities and vulnerabilities going on,’ ” Miller says. “The idea that everyone wants to present a certain version of themselves and everybody sees people a certain way, but then if you get a chance to look at the world through their eyes, you get to see something more complex and more interesting.”
Miller says “The Afterparty” started as a movie script that got sidetracked by producing other projects, including “22 Jump Street,” “The Lego Batman Movie” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” In the interim, streaming services came online with a ravenous appetite for scripted originals, including limited series.
“When we finally came up for air a few years ago, I pulled it out because I knew there was something really special about it. I took a look at it and I realized that we gave short shrift to some of these characters and their stories, because in a movie, you’ve got less than two hours to tell a story — so you’ve only got a few minutes if you’re going to tell multiple points of view to give each of these characters their moment in the sun,” Miller says.
“When I started this, the age of streaming, premium television didn’t exist. And now I could turn this into a series where each episode gets to focus on one character and you could really dig into them and have a lot of fun.”
Miller originally set “The Afterparty” in Seattle but ended up changing it to the San Francisco Bay Area to make logistics in the detective’s backstory work more realistically.
Switching from a movie to a series resulted in another change to the project: Each episode could be tailored to a film style that reflects the personality of the character whose point of view is featured in that episode.
The premiere episode focuses on Aniq (Sam Richardson, “Veep”) and plays like a romantic comedy. The Yasper (Schwartz) episode is a musical. The Zoe (Zoe Chao, “Love Life”) episode features animated scenes.
“That allowed us to play more with the style of storytelling and the idea that each person’s story can be told in a different film style,” Miller says. “Then it was trying to figure out what informs each character and pushes them in different directions so they could fit into the archetypes of those genres.”