- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Tumblr
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
It’s easy to root for Sam Richardson. Onscreen, he radiates sweetness so effortlessly that he even managed to bring an impervious sunniness to the otherwise caustic, cynical Veep. At the same time, he’s versatile enough to subvert expectations by playing the dick on Ted Lasso or Promising Young Woman. Apple TV+’s The Afterparty, in which Richardson plays the closest thing to a lead in the ensemble cast, rests on that range. His Aniq is a sweetheart whose heart, as his buddy Yasper (Ben Schwartz) puts it, “is made of cotton candy and gummy bears and jollies.” He couldn’t possibly be the killer … or could he?
Chris Miller’s murder mystery switches genres from episode to episode as different characters take turns telling their stories, and for Aniq — an escape-room designer who’s shown up at his 15-year high school reunion in hopes of rekindling a romance with his former crush (Zoë Chao) — the evening has been a rom-com, complete with a meet-cute, an indie-pop soundtrack and a tender moment in the rain. Richardson is as dorkily endearing a romantic hero as any fan of the genre could dream of, whether he’s making eyes at his love interest over a bouquet of popping balloons or desperately inventing new lyrics to Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” in a karaoke mishap.
Richardson has long demonstrated a gift for provoking belly laughs, sometimes even without seeming to do much at all. On Veep, he regularly stole scenes from more established comedy stars like Julia Louis-Dreyfus just by standing in the background with a big, oblivious grin pasted on his face. By contrast, Aniq is often the straight man to more colorful characters like motormouthed Yasper or aggro Brett (Ike Barinholtz). But here, too, Richardson regularly makes funny scenes funnier with a silent squint of bafflement or a comment muttered under his breath with crackerjack comic timing.
As the story goes on, Richardson’s Aniq gets the chance to show new layers. He’s an amateur detective trying desperately to clear his own name (though the puzzle lover in him isn’t above occasional flashes of excitement about getting to solve the ultimate riddle), or a high school kid genuinely devastated by a blow to his golden future. He channels impotent rage for an awkward fight scene, and hams it up for a Hamilton-by-way-of-Lonely-Island musical number.
In a show that hinges on the details — on the tiny discrepancies between different accounts, or subtle misreadings of various characters’ moods and motives — Richardson delivers a precisely calibrated performance that helps keep The Afterparty on an even keel, no matter if it’s drifting off into animated fantasies or diving into Fast & Furious-style action. Whatever he’s up to, he’s never less than magnetic.
The Afterparty isn’t Richardson’s first leading role; he also starred in the joyously silly Detroiters and the spooky-clever Werewolves Within. But it is a deft reminder that Richardson can do it all — that there’s a reason his Afterparty creator described him in THR‘s own pages as “his generation’s Tom Hanks.” All that’s left for the rest of us to do is sit back and watch him continue to ascend.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day