Below, please find a review of American Vandal. The first eight points are relatively spoiler-free. The last two are probably better if you’ve seen the show. Which you should. You should see it. It is extremely good. Allow me to explain.
1. American Vandal is a mockumentary and true crime parody from Netflix. It was created by Funny or Die veterans Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda. The first season contains eight 30-40 minute episodes and is available now.
2. The plot, in general terms, goes something like this: Someone at Hanover High School has drawn penises on 27 cars in the faculty parking lot. Senior class clown and doofus Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) is the prime suspect. The school board expels him based on one unreliable eyewitness account and a pile of circumstantial evidence including, but not limited to, a long history of drawing penises on things. But sophomore Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) sees holes in the case and launches an investigation/documentary to get to the bottom of it all. It is essentially like Serial crossed with Making a Murderer but about drawings of dicks.
3. If you read that paragraph and thought to yourself, “Hmm, sounds funny but I don’t think they can keep that idea fresh for over four hours of programming,” I am pleased to report that you are stupid and wrong. So very wrong. It is good and it remains good the whole way through. It pulls this off in two ways:
- American Vandal knows exactly what it is doing. It’s such a good true crime parody that it might even ruin the genre for you, but like, in a good way. What starts as a straightforward(-ish) investigation zooms off down path after path on the hunt for new theories. New suspects are looked at, inconsistencies are examined in painstaking detail, a huge conspiracy wall is constructed with pictures of people and strings of yarn connecting them to index cards with questions marks. A big break in the case stems from the way the penises are drawn. The show spends a lot of time on it. It’s really just delightful.
- There is a surprising amount of emotional heft to it all. As the investigations twist and twirl, the show takes some time to show the effect all of it has on the subjects. There are tears, and there is yelling, and parts of it will make you feel real feelings about some of the characters, which is not something I expected from a mockumentary about graffiti dicks. But it is all in there. I swear to God. In addition to being a great true crime parody, American Vandal is also one of the best teen dramas on television.
I am sorry for calling you stupid earlier. I just get a little excited.
4. There is so much talk about dicks. And so many drawings of dicks. You almost become immune to it after a while. Like, a character will say “We still don’t know who drew the dicks” and you will find yourself so fascinated by the mystery that you’ll have to remind yourself how hilarious the whole thing is. Here, let me show you what I mean.
The last image is one of the official promotional pictures Netflix provided to critics. It’s my favorite promotional picture since Sad Pablo Escobar on a Bench Swing from Narcos. To be clear, this is the highest praise I have to offer.
5. It is very hard to discuss this show without spoiling it, because so many of the things that make it so much fun are little moments and specific references that you really should get to enjoy with fresh eyes. Especially the references to the first season of Serial, which range from the small (“The Kiefer Sutherland Call”) to the broad (the effects of an episodic documentary going viral before it reaches its conclusion). A big part of me hopes this catches fire like Stranger Things did and “Who drew the dicks?” becomes an inescapable pop culture phenomenon that everyone eventually gets sick of.
6. Are the episode titles childish puns? Oh heck yes, the episode titles are childish puns.
- “Hard Facts: Vandalism and Vulgarity”
- “A Limp Alibi”
- “Growing Suspicion”
- “Premature Theories”
- “Gag Order”
- “Clean Up”