The perfect satire show for the 21st century, American Vandal is hilarious, meticulously plotted, surprisingly deep and deceptively addictive.
When Netflix released the first trailer for American Vandal a month ago, to say that there was a mixed reception would be an understatement. Some were immediately on-board and loved what they saw, for everyone else they bemoaned that a show like this would be produced over cancelled favourites like Sense8. Regardless, American Vandal instantly became an intriguing prospect. The mockumentary satirises the true crime documentaries, such as Making a Murderer, which have rapidly escalated in popularity over the last few years. It tells the story of budding filmmaker Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and his friend Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) as they seek to exonerate Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) who has been expelled from their high school for allegedly spray painting 27 dicks on teacher’s cars.
The premise at first seems extremely juvenile and crude, it instantly recalls thoughts of the highly divisive comedies of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, but the show does not lean on the potentially limiting premise; yes, the show is built upon the spray painting of the dicks, but American Vandal deserves credit for perhaps being the most deceptive show of the year. From Episode 1, you’ll think you’re in for an over the top, crass comedy with endless streams of jokes, but by Episode 8, you’ll realise that American Vandal is its own gripping crime story, with extremely well-timed, placed and delivered humour which strikes when your defences are at their lowest. In classic Netflix fashion, American Vandal is addicting and earns its status among the great binge-worthy content of the streaming service.
While the show does not necessarily rely on the performances, they are solid across the board. Alvarez, Gluck and Tatro are at the helm, with Tatro in particular being given the most to do and responding excellently, Tatro capitalises on his near-scene-stealing antics in 22 Jump Street, jumping into the lead role of the dim-witted yet lovable Dylan. Alvarez and Gluck have a nice chemistry, as does Tatro with his friends, the “Way Back Boys”; they capture the teenage essence brilliantly. But what really aids the performances is the characterisation, the show manages to build and develop everyone tied to the case in subtle ways, American Vandal has a broad spectrum to cover but somehow manages to do it phenomenally well. For a couple of writers known only for their work on internet shows, Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda absolutely nail it on their jump to high-profile TV.
The millennial influence on the show is evident, however it does not try to push it to the forefront and thus avoids a potentially cringeworthy end product, nor does it mercilessly lambaste it; American Vandal perfectly encapsulates the current day teen culture and uses it to advance the story and build its characters. There were so many things to expect American Vandal to be that it manages to undercut all of them. It packs in a surprising amount of heart and a lot of depth, particularly when the show starts to explore the repercussions of the documentary on those tied to it. Again, the teenage culture is utilised perfectly; how far do teens go to preserve their secrets? Are they all they seem on first glance? How do people face up to the truth?
American Vandal is not a parody, it’s a satire; it doesn’t make a mockery of our infatuation with the true-crime genre, it points out just how obsessed we are and retools it into a funnier, yet equally as enthralling version of it. It stands out as a truly unique show in and among all of the lazy sitcoms we must endure in 2017, with a second season expected, it’s only a matter of time until American Vandal becomes as popular as the very thing it seeks to satirise.
All eight episodes of American Vandal are available to stream right now on Netflix.