After the Party, ABC review: a smartly observed, sharply told NZ drama

Robyn Malcolm shines in this tense NZ drama-mystery about the aftermath of an accusation.

When it was first announced that New Zealand programming would count as local content on Australian screens, we were warned to prepare ourselves for a flood of sub-par programming. The reverse proved to be true: New Zealand comedies (and comedians) often outshone our own, their police reality shows are constantly funnier than ours, and if After the Party (which, to be fair, is an Australian co-production) is any guide, they’re outshining us when it comes to quality drama as well.

When we first meet New Zealand teacher Penny (Robyn Malcolm), she’s giving an impromptu lecture on the evils of pornography to a class of teenage boys. It’s a sensible, nuanced talk designed to educate rather than embarrass. Consent and desire are clearly topics she’s used dealing with.

It doesn’t take long to learn why. A chat between friends at a post school-sport gathering briefly turns towards sex, and then suddenly spirals out of control. Penny is accused of seeing all women as victims and being quick to point the finger at men: ‘Just because you’re a woman, doesn’t automatically mean you’re telling the truth,’ someone says. And now it’s clear why Penny was so freaked out earlier at seeing her ex-husband Phil (Peter Mullan) back in town for the first time in years.

Read: After the Party, ABC iview, streaming preview

The details take a little while to shake loose. Five years ago, Penny accused Phil of committing a sex crime against one of the friends of their fifteen-year-old daughter, Grace (Tara Canton), during his birthday party. Nobody believed her, or maybe they just didn’t believe in her enough to take it any further. Their marriage ended and he left town.

Grace, now grown and with a child of her own, has welcomed Phil back into her life. It’s clear at least some of the locals are on his side. Penny is possibly a little too left-leaning for her scenic seaside town; she’s both a nude model for a drawing class, and a member of a local protest group fighting against a rogue fishing company that’s been trawling in a protected area.

Phil’s return throws her life into a spin. Having Grace stand by him is a blow that’s hard to take, and as the community (or at least, part of it) welcomes him back, she’s finding it increasingly difficult to cope. When fresh accusations against Phil surface, some believe she’s the one behind them. As her personal life begins to fray in multiple directions, it’s hard to see where it’s all going to end.

There are plenty of twists and turns in After the Party’s six episodes. So much so that the central question – did Phil really do it – at times threatens to fade into the background. So much of the story here is about the repercussions of Penny’s accusation that, at times, it doesn’t really matter whether she was right or wrong. What’s done is done, and everyone has to deal with it. It’s just that nobody can agree on what was done: Penny thinks a crime was committed, almost everyone else thinks her accusation was the crime.

The way it’s framed here, ‘Did Phil do it?’ isn’t much of a question. Once we know what Phil’s supposed to have done, the arc of the series is clear. But After the Party does a good job of building a strong case that Penny got it wrong. Not so much for having ruined an innocent man’s life – right from the start it’s pretty clear Phil was at the very least a little bit sleazy – but for having leapt to judgment and torn her family apart.

Stacking the evidence against Penny is the only way this kind of story can work. There’s no tension if we know Penny was right, but she’s the lead; we know she’s not going to be flat-out wrong. The drama comes not from wondering which version of events is correct, but from how they’re going to pull off the inevitable reveal when they keep building the case (and it gets pretty convincing) against it.

None of this would hold together without a great performance from Malcolm. Penny is both vulnerable and angry, sometimes abrasive, constantly on the verge of lashing out, yet wounded when those around her turn on her. It’s a difficult balance to make work, and it would be easy for her to come across as petulant or spiteful. Malcolm avoids those traps; Penny did what she thought was right, she’s become an outcast for speaking out and she can’t quite grasp why the world isn’t working like it should.

After the Party is about a wound that won’t heal. Smartly observed, sharply told, and with a brace of convincing performances, it’s a family drama wrapped around a mystery, telling a story that’s satisfying on both levels. Australian drama could learn a thing or two.

After the Party premieres Sunday 28 April at 8:30pm on ABC TV. All episodes will be available to stream on ABC iview


4 out of 5 stars

After the Party


Robyn Malcom , Peter Mullan, Tara Canton


Peter Salmon

Format: TV Series

Country: New Zealand

Release: 28 April 2024

Available on:

abc iview, 2 Episodes

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.