As a genre, “true crime” has exploded in popularity; the release of the podcast Serial and Netflix’s Making a Murderer each took over the collective pop culture consciousness following their release and have fans still searching for answers today.
With so many storytelling tropes, the true crime documentary format is ripe for parody, but the mystery presented in American Vandal is well worth your time.
American Vandal follows troubled high school student, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), who is expelled in the aftermath of a prank which leaves twenty-seven faculty vehicles spray painted with “phallic imagery”. Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez), a fellow student, documenting the case against Dylan as he attempts to find the truth to one question, “Who drew the d–ks?”
It’s a simple question that not only opens the door, but kicks it down, for juvenile but witty humor throughout the series’ eight episode run. At its core, American Vandal is a parody of the true crime genre, a comedy where each revelation and new clue add a new wrinkle to the story’s hilarity.
What really sets American Vandal apart from other parodies is its equal emphasis its humor and the mystery moving the plot forward. In later episodes, the comedy actually takes a backseat to the fast moving plot and genuinely interesting and well established cast of characters.
As with most stories told in the true crime genre, the culprit is unknown but there’s far more to be gain in the truths learned throughout the series rather than each clue found throughout the investigation.
American Vandal is focuses mainly on the repercussions that labels can have on children who are still trying to find their place in high school. Defining a person you don’t know without taking the time to learn about them is a way of looking at the world that hurts people.
As a scathing remark on the genre, American Vandal as it is a great parody but has even more important themes about the high school experience today. By episode four, “American Vandal,” the in universe documentary series has begun airing online and has become a viral hit totaling hundreds of thousands of views, and making the documentary team, and their subjects, instant online celebrities.
It’s this moment where Peter and the documentary team begin to see that American Vandal, as with most true crime documentaries, is guilty of mislabeling and dismissing its subject’s lives in favor of finding the truth just like the school board dismissed Dylan because of his conduct history.
American Vandal has a lot to say, and it’s much more than one eight episode d–k joke. In a world of over the top high school dramas, American Vandal feels like it most accurately conveys what’s often described as one of the best, or worst times of a person’s life. There’s so much in this series to love, it is absolutely worth a binge