By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
If you watched the first season of “The Afterparty,” on Apple TV+, then you have some idea of what to expect from season two—a “whodunnit” loaded with comedy and intrigue and featuring some of the most entertaining actors in the biz. It’s an addicting show due to its snappy, funny dialogue, and, in season two, the way each episode plays in a different environment, thematically. Get ready for familiar faces, as well as several AAPI faces new to the show, as the collected guests endeavor to solve a murder surrounding the wedding of Edgar (Zach Woods) and Grace (Poppy Liu), the sister of Zoë (also a Zoë—Chao), who we met in season one during her high school reunion.
The Weekly spoke to two of the additions to the show—John Cho, who plays “Ulysses” (we’ll get back to that but just the name should give you a hint of how over-the-top this character is); and Ken Jeong, who plays “Feng,” brother to Ulysses and father of the bride.
“It was my favorite show from season one,” Jeong said. He had not made any bid for the show, but was constantly recommending it to his friends.
“I had no skin in the game…To get the call to do it was serendipitous.” As Jeong explained, “It’s very rare in an actor’s life” to get that kind of chance. “You can’t manifest being on your favorite show…it was a ‘pinch me’ moment for me.”
Jeong’s character, Feng, is a well-meaning but bumbling father, husband, and businessman. He’s struggling to bring Taiwanese shaved ice (NOT Hawaiian shaved ice—he is clear about that!) to the United States in honor of when he and his beloved wife, Vivian (also a Vivian—Wu), discovered it during a trip to Taiwan. He calls himself “the King of Bing” (ie. baobing/shaved ice) and wears his blingy work jacket for the entire show—that is, he wears it to the wedding and is never not promoting his business. If you work for yourself, you get this, and I didn’t find his constant self-promotion annoying at all. Instead, it was charming and evoked great sympathy, like Feng (whose name no one can get right) does in general throughout the season.
“I definitely drew on my own relationship with my own daughters…digging into [that],” Jeong said about how he immersed into the role. “I’m an eager-to-please person in real life and sometimes too much so.” Jeong leaned into that predicament as much as possible, where Feng is “always trying and always failing, but not reading the room, but you still keep trying even though it’s not working. What if I didn’t have the filter that I may or may not have in real life?”
Feng is father to Zoë and to Grace, who is the reason for everyone gathering in the first place, and whose love for Edgar is in serious doubt when he turns up dead and she never signed the pre-nup. Aniq (Sam Richardson), Zoë’s plus-one, is up to his same shenanigans as in season one, being accused of the murder, being abused by the other guests (often that is race-based, such as the questionable crocheted black doll he is given when he and Zoë arrive at the wedding venue), and trying—rather impressively, actually—to not offend anyone who means something to him.
But of course, everyone is accused of the murder, everyone is a suspect, and Danner (Tiffany Haddish), the now-retired private investigator, has her work cut out for her as she interviews the wedding guests. Each interview comprises one episode and has its own theme. It’s part of what makes season two of “The Afterparty” and its version of the “whodunnit” so fresh. For instance, Grace, an antiques dealer, gets a Bridgerton/Downton Abbey-esque episode where everyone is in period costume and speaking with upper class affectation; Travis (Paul Walter Hauser), the “Reddit detective” (a hilarious jibe at online sleuthing), gets the film noire episode; Hannah (Anna Konkle), Edgar’s strange, adopted sister, gets the Wes Anderson-styled highly saturated color palette episode; while Feng’s is a TikTok video; and Ulysses’…well…let’s go over that.
“I don’t know that I could name the person but…that guy felt very familiar to me. I think I have met versions of this person, shades of this person, throughout my life, [and I] pulled from a lot of different sources,” Cho told the Weekly. I don’t know who that guy is, either, but I can tell you this: Cho’s rendition of the wanderer, the explorer extraordinaire, the lonely “Legends of the Fall,” long-haired lover escaping his past pain by traveling the world, the appropriater, you could say, of every culture he encounters (he is constantly over-sharing his worldly knowledge), made me laugh every time he was on screen, before he even moved or opened his mouth.
The only thing I have to say is this, and I hate to say it because I adore this character, I adore Cho, I adore this show, but this has to be said by someone. The character Ulysses is potentially offensive to sufferers of PTSD who were in the military. Ulysses is presumed to have PTSD after a gig with the USO (United Service Organizations) in Kuwait. I won’t say what he was doing there, because that’s part of the humor, an effective part, but I will tell you that he was not in the military during that gig. I wish to tread lightly here—ANY form of PTSD is legit and it’s absolutely possible Ulysses has it—BUT since “The Afterparty” IS a comedy, it comes across a bit in poor taste when Ulysses’ PTSD is made much of for the sake of the story—he is made to look a little silly, given his melodramatic personality and, well, it just rubbed me the wrong way.
Back to the humor, which was abundant in “The Afterparty” and in the Weekly’s talk with Cho and Jeong, where the two actors riffed off of each other like good friends. “The ‘whodunnit’ is an enduring genre,” Cho answered, when we asked him what makes “The Afterparty” so good. “To tell it from a multiplicity of genres is certainly different [and] upping the comedy level…it’s a lot of entertainment coming at you in a lot of different ways. I find it a thick viewing experience.”
Jeong then butts in.
“Did he call it a ‘multiplicity’ of genres?”—and jokingly corrected Cho, “It’s a ‘mosaic’…it’s not a multiplicity.”
“The Afterparty” season two airs July 12 on Apple TV+.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.