American Vandal is a mockumentary, parodying the style of another Netflix hit, true crime sensation; ‘Making a Murderer’ but instead of poking fun of the documentary format as most in this genre do, American Vandal’s greatest feat is embracing it wholeheartedly to unravel it’s fictional mystery in a way that shouldn’t be possible for what is essentially a four hour penis joke.
Small town high school, Hanover High is in shock after 27 penises were spray painted on cars in the teacher’s car park with prankster and known “d*ck drawer” Dylan Maxwell, played by Youtuber Jimmy Tatro, the obvious suspect. Dylan is then expelled from school for what he says is a crime he didn’t commit which spurs fellow student, and filmmaker Peter Maldonado to search for the truth of “who did the d*cks?”
Such a ridiculous premise shouldn’t succeed but yet it pulls you in with its well rounded characters, especially its subject, Dylan, whose slacker and prankster persona fizzles away as he struggles with being alone while his friends are at school and the fear for his future college aspirations being ruined give real stakes to finding proof of his innocence.
The show couldn’t be compared to Making a Murderer without the twists and revelations that were a staple of the 2015 hit. The way it treats twists such as; the penises on the car don’t have ball hairs and Dylan claims he never misses the ball hairs, and the key witness’ integrity being called into question because he lied about getting intimate with the hottest girl in school.
While entirely fictional, American Vandal adds a layer of realism in its portrayal of the high school experience, it achieves with well rounded characters that all coexist in the high school dynamic, in a way that’s far closer to reality than the segregated ‘click’ archetypes of most high school comedies.
The show’s portrayal of social media also adds to this realistic approach with Instragram posts, Snapchat stories and group messages all seamlessly woven into the story and at times given just as much weight and importance as face to face interactions, much like the internet-savvy high schoolers of today would experience.
While having a great start and doing a good job of pulling in the viewer and getting them invested, American Vandal runs out of steam towards the end and rushes into an ending that feels forced, just to try and neatly tie up a theme that runs throughout its 8 episodes, with varying degrees of success.
Ultimately American Vandal is a comedic mockumentary that takes the audience through an entertaining mystery and attempts to touch upon the issues of stereotyping with the ‘once a slacker, always a slacker’ attitude many characters have with Dylan. But in the end, it succeeds far more with the former than it does with the latter.