Netflix’s newest series, American Vandal, may feel very familiar to viewers who have previously seen another Netflix original; Making a Murderer. That’s because American Vandal directly parodies Making a Murderer, and other serialized true crime shows such as the highly successful podcast, Serial.
The premise of this parody series is a troublemaker, named Dylan, getting expelled from school after being accused of spray painting 27 penises onto all the cars in the faculty parking lot of his high school. The documentarian, a fellow student named Peter Maldonado, sets off to figure out whether Dylan really “did the dicks” or whether he was wrongfully accused. He films it all for his documentary series.
I was really impressed at how similar they made this show feel to the real thing. It legitimately felt like a true crime documentary. As ridiculous as the premise was made, the show was written in a way where you actually feel that you’re watching a true crime documentary about an actual student. This is because everybody involved in this documentary is taking this very seriously. From unreliable testimonies, to multiple suspects, breaking down the motives of those involved, looking into possible conspiracies; this show had it all.
In fact, in spite of the absurdity of the premise itself, by the end of the first episode, I legitimately became invested in finding out who committed the vandalism. After all, this sort of prank could totally happen in real life. And whether or not the prank itself is ridiculous, the consequences of being accused of committing said crime could be dire. For Dylan, this means jail time, expulsion, and a rescinded college admission. The stakes are actually really, deceivingly high on this show.
The writers of the show really understand the elements of a true crime documentary that make them so compelling. They were able to create their own version, while also poking fun at some of the medium’s own flaws and quirks. I’m also looking forward to how this will change future content in this genre. Now that we know a fictional version of this genre can be just as captivating, do we really need more stories based on the truth, or will we keep getting fictional ones in the same vein as American Vandal?
That said, it was really nice to be able to watch this show knowing that it is entirely fictional, regardless of how convincing it is. Series such as Making a Murderer or Serial could prove to be extremely frustrating because you know that any loose ends are actually real unsolved mysteries, and someone in reality is getting screwed over. Here, you can just enjoy the mystery as it unfolds, and also the dick jokes. So. Many. Dick Jokes.
I also loved how well the mockumentary captured the mundanities of high school. Until movies like 21 Jump Street, I never got the feeling that Hollywood understood how high school actually works. Those tropes of the popular quarterback stuffing nerds into lockers; that just doesn’t happen anymore in most high schools. The high school depicted in American Vandal felt too familiar. From the cheesy anti-bully programs, to the life-or-death seriousness with which the students approach “outside school lunch privileges” just felt real.
Overall, this was a very entertaining watch. I came into it with low expectations. Wondering how a dick joke could stretch itself out (lol) into a full season. Instead of spending eight episodes putting “dicks” at the forefront of every joke, the story takes the main stage. The showrunners found a way to tell a compelling story AND make silly jokes at the same time, with both elements only working together to make for better television. This is definitely worth a short weekend binge, especially if you are a fan of the genre.
- Each of these actors was incredibly talented.
- The dialogue is gold.
- Don’t know how Season 2 will play out, but very interested to see what approach they take.