American Vandal is a new Netflix Original Series and true-crime satire in the form of an 8 episode mockumentary making fun of true-crime dramas such as Netflix’s own ‘Making A Murderer’ (2015) and the obsession people have with these shows. The series follows a recent event where after the discovery of dicks being drawn on 27 high school staff cars a documentarian Peter Maldanaldo (Tyler Alvarez) decides to investigate and question the potentially unjust expulsion of student Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro). From the outset this may seem like a purely ridiculous series with the sole purpose of providing us satirical humour but it really is very multi-layered as it progresses. I would look at describing it as like a double-edged sword; on one hand it is hilarious and ridiculous in its approach to spoofing true-crime dramas, but on the other hand the fact that the characters take the dick-drawing crime so seriously has you genuinely interested in uncovering “Who drew the dicks?”. On top of that it also contains some important messages regarding true-crime dramas and engaging social commentary on the subject matter.
I will begin with the satirical aspects of the show because that is what this series is being predominantly marketed as, and rightfully so. Who knew dick jokes would still be so fucking funny in 2017? This series is just straight up hilarious from beginning to end, it provides so many stupidly funny laugh out loud moments in every episode that it all plays into the ridiculousness of its premise. But the reason it is so funny is not because it tries to force jokes that spoof true-crime dramas, it works mainly because of how seriously all of the characters in the mockumentary react to the crime of drawing dicks on cars. It doesn’t shove jokes in your face, it plays itself like a serious crime documentary and lets the seriousness combined with the insane subject matter provide the laughs naturally. This is a spoof done 100% right, there is no need to sacrifice quality for humour as many modern spoofs do, you can create a somewhat serious series with quality writing that also doubles as a comedic success.
One of the craziest things I found whilst watching this series is that as time went on and more clues were being uncovered about the identity of the dick-drawer and whether Dylan is guilty or innocent i found myself genuinely obsessing over finding the answer to the mystery of who drew the dicks. Which in a way is ironic as this obsession is one of the main satirical focuses of the series. You begin to really care about the characters, especially Dylan who Jimmy Tatro plays expertly from scene to scene. I would love to see a blooper reel because there is no way half of these lines were said without any laughter. The documentarian Peter you instantly gravitate towards because he is the voice guiding you on this journey of insanity. As the series progresses it gets very damn intense to the point where towards the end I was watching for the mystery almost more than the more prominent satirical elements. My excitement in the final few episodes only proves that this does a successful job at being a ‘serious’ true-crime drama as well as a spoof on the subject…… it’s fucking great.
Then the series actually goes much deeper than being just a true-crime drama or just a true-crime satire as it involves various messages, lessons, and sections of social commentary that speak loudly without being shoved in your face. It says quite a bit about the negative effects true-crime dramas may have on the real lives of people who may or may not have been involved in the crime in question. It also goes a long way in looking at the effects of judging someone without truly knowing them and how that is an unfortunately integral part of high school and social media in the world today impacting the lives of teenagers. The integrity and justness of the current justice system is also touched on as it seems on many occasions potentially life changing decisions are made based on one flawed statement vs another flawed statement. And in a way the show lulls you into making the same judgements and decisions by providing you with evidence to make up your mind about who the culprit definitely is and then throws things out of whack, really getting you to confront and think about this which is just brilliant.
So in the end, this is a show I decided to check out based on the absurdity of the main plot and looked forward to simply admiring a potentially entertaining satire. But what I got was that and so much more making this Netflix original series such an incredible joy to watch from start to finish on so many levels. It is made up of eight 30 minute episodes so it’s a very short watch and definitely worth it if you have the time.