What follows is a review of the second season of American Vandal, in three parts, with no puns. Probably. I’m going to do my best. It’s not going to be easy, though. Perhaps you’ve noticed this in the coverage of the second season. People just cannot help themselves. This is what happens when a show centers its whole marketing campaign around a mysterious fecal mishap and a culprit who goes by “the Turd Burglar.” Poop puns. I’m going to do my best, though. For you. Because I respect you.
Part I – Facts
The second season of American Vandal is set at a private high school in a wealthy area of Washington state. Our documentarians from the first season, Peter and Sam (Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck), are asked to come in and help the students investigate an event referred to as “the brown out,” a truly horrifying prank involving laxative-spiked lemonade and just massive amount of poop. There’s a whole explanation as to why and how they end up going there, but it’s very good and I don’t want to ruin it, except to say that it touches on how the CGI and production value of their documentary from season one was so professional-looking.
Once the show gets to Washington, it slowly rolls out its new cast of characters and suspects. There’s Chloe (Taylor Dearden), a girl at the school who asks for assistance clearing the name of a potentially wrongfully accused student. There’s Kevin (Travis Tope), the accused student, who has a sort of quirky-on-purpose personality and lots of opinions about beverages. There’s Demarcus (Melvin Gregg), the school’s prank-loving basketball star, who is introduced with a pitch-perfect YouTube-style recruiting hype video that people in the overlapping parts of the “Offbeat comedies”/“Basketball Twitter” Venn Diagram will find hilarious. And so on.
The mystery in this one is deeper. There are way more twists and turns. I found myself caring about the Whodunnit aspect of the show a lot more this time around, which I was not necessarily expecting. This brings us to…
Part II – The Changes
This season is definitely heavier than the first, and less outright joke-y, and it definitely goes to darker places. Part of that is the nature of the incident that sets everything in motion. Season one was about graffiti dicks and who did them. It was mostly harmless and charming, which made the seriousness of the investigation inherently funny. There’s barely even a victim there, really. Like if someone spray-painted a huge graffiti dick on my car tomorrow, I’m not even sure I could get all that mad about it. I wouldn’t be super-jazzed about it, but it’s more of an “Aw, man” situation than anything else. Please do not do it, though. This is for illustration purposes only.
This season opens with a literal poisoning. A crime. And while, as Sam correctly points out during a discussion of the motive, poop is funny, there’s more of a maliciousness to it, and it’s one that grows as the real motives become clear toward the end of the season. This isn’t Dylan farting on babies and just being a lovable doofus. And while season one showed a thoughtful commentary on teenagers and social media, this season takes that in a much deeper and darker direction.