American Vandal: A Parody of Deep Dive Documentaries: AV Club Investigates Vandalism
September 17, 2017 9:05 AM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

When the class troublemaker is blamed for the spraypainting of dicks on every car in the faculty parking lot, two intrepid reporters from the school's morning announcement program tear apart the case against him in this eight part mockumentary. Produced for Netflix and very reminiscent of it's Making a Murderer, this spot on parody of long form investigative docmunetaries distinguishes itself by allowing its characters to grow beyond the stereotypes of nerds, jocks, and burnouts. At some point after the first few episodes you realize it stopped being just a comedy and has become as complex and asorbing a mystery as the documentaries its meant to mock.

Mike Hale in the New York Times doesn't like its seriousness.

TechCrunch's Derrell Etherington of Original Content (about 45 minutes in, spoilers revealed) likes how dumb details at the beginning play a significant roll in the latter half of the series. He thinks it's well worth making the commitment all the way through to the end.

Mark Titus at the Ringer thinks they've pulled off the impossible and turned a dick joke into a work of art.

An interview with the creators, Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault.

"Indeed, few shows I've seen catch high school society, with its self-contained seriousness, as well as "American Vandal" does, as well as the mix of innocence and experience, confusion and certitude that mark that age. It’s as engrossing as the series it set out to satirize and moving in ways you would not expect. A story well told is a story well told, however it comes together."— Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times
posted by Stanczyk (19 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
this show takes itself too seriously, but that resulted in me watching all eight episodes in one night, sooooo ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

the show is truly hilarious at certain points though. the creators admitted in their mashable interview that they cut some of the funniest moments out in order to make it feel less like a mockumentary. my question then is what exactly is the point of all this? the concept alone is absurd enough and done well enough to be funny for a few episodes but once you're invested that kind of falls the way and it just feels like an incredibly low stakes mystery. and the jokes are fewer and farther apart as the show continues.

i did think that the show perfectly captured that sort of absurd self seriousness of high school. i liked it well enough. i just wish there had been more jokes.
posted by JimBennett at 10:19 AM on September 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have no idea whether to recommend this to anyone. I think I am comfortable recommending to anyone they watch the first one or two episodes -- especially if you've been keeping up with these true crime docs (me: Serial, The Jinx, Making of a Murderer, and The Keepers... so, yeah, that's me) -- and then seeing if you want to keep watching.

Beware, though: I, too, ended up bingeing all eight even though I certainly didn't plan to and sort of expected to bail every time I started a new episode. But it ends up having that same sort of compulsive "watch one more to see what the deal is with the cliffhanger episode-end" thing these shows do. Even though it's fictional and parody and is about 27 Dicks on 27 Cars (surely soon to be a band name).

It is meticulous in recreating every nuance of these shows. Everything is spot-on and that's quite impressive alone. The acting is amazing -- every one of the high-schools kids feels absolutely real at all times. Mr. Kraz is the most obvious comedy character and therefore doesn't have that cinema verite feel. But the kids do, even when it's getting in some great jokes.

A lot of the humor is teenage boy stuff, but that fits with the subject matter. And although I'm kinda touch-and-go with the dick jokes, I was mostly okay with it and a few had me really laughing.

It has some serious things to say at the end, but they're all obvious and I don't think that quite worked. I was surprised to find some of the drama toward the end quite affecting, such as the break-up scene and especially Dylan's "I'm not dumb" scene, which broke my heart.

The actor playing Dylan deserves critical recognition because he had a lot of work to do and he had to do it very well with no missteps. And he did. Really, though I'm repeating myself, all the actors playing the kids were extremely good.

And how about the student council president / activist character and actress? She freaked me out, frankly, at how perfectly she captured the voice and mannerisms of a successful politician. The actress made a different decision -- and arguably not the right one - than Reese Witherspoon did with Tracy Flick in Election. Flick was played as a nascent Leslie Knopf, while this character was played as a fully-realized mature pol who happens to be in an 18-year-old body. But, regardless, I enjoyed that character.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:24 AM on September 18, 2017 [18 favorites]

I had a flash early on of Christa Carlyle as Allison, from Orphan Black, and then it became impossible not to see Allison every time Christa appeared. (It may have been the hair styling.) Which was a little distracting, but also strangely fun.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 9:49 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

my question then is what exactly is the point of all this?

The point of the show is pointing out how true crime shows like Serial/Making a Murderer are inherently dangerous and deceptive.

The greatest strength of this show is that it's not just a perfect parody of True Crime series but also a cutting critique of them. The show is far more self aware than Serial ever was of itself.

The 2nd half of the season basically deconstructs the first half (and shows like Serial). Broad jokes early on (spending an entire episode determining if a high schooler got a handjob in order to determine if he is trustworthy) are later indirectly questioned (why the hell is the "documentarian" questioning something barely related to the actual crime, and in the process horribly embarrassing two of his classmates? -- FYI Serial did something similar). The show is about how solving a crime as a "junior detective" is not only often fruitless but also potentially harmful -- especially if you're going to be broadcasting your theories to the world without the consent of the people involved. These shows, despite believing they are ethical as they are purely interested in finding the "truth", cross a moral boundary.

One of the best moments of the show is in the final party sequence. After spending 7 episodes ruining people's reputations based on circumstantial evidence (and discovering each time his theories were wrong), the documentarian is finally confronted by one of the characters for the irreparable damage his documentary has done. The documentarian admits his mistakes and realizes he may never learn the "truth"...

...until a minute later a new piece of circumstantial evidence is revealed and he jumps right back into junior detective mode and ends his show indirectly accusing two new characters for the crime just because one of them didn't know CPR.
posted by bittermensch at 3:17 PM on September 19, 2017 [25 favorites]

This was such a weird show, and all the criticism of being too serious is probably well-founded, but I watched the whole thing over 3 days which is pretty unusual for me (It took me like a month to get through Serial even though I liked it a lot). The trailer made it look like a really broad comedy, and then the first episode or two seemed like a pretty even mix between comedy and hyper realistic true-crime drama, to the point of almost being pastiche rather than satire. But I enjoyed it, and like others have said, this was at times a pretty brutal takedown of the genre cliches and other weaknesses of these shows in general, but Serial in particular.

The guy who played Alex Trimboli (Calum Worthy) was soooo good. Also Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck). The scene where Sam shows his theory of why Peter Maldonado might have been the culprit (his secret love of dicks) was so juvenile and so perfect for a high school kid who happens to be great at video production.
posted by skewed at 5:37 PM on September 19, 2017 [13 favorites]

just because one of them didn't know CPR

The American Vandal subreddit has identified additional potentially damning evidence.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:00 PM on September 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

This was just excellent!
posted by k8t at 10:49 PM on September 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

This was staggeringly good; I didn't watch it all at one sitting, but I could have, easily. I'm not sure who scared me more in the end: Christa, or Peter Maldonado.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:09 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Two episodes in and all I can say is never has my discomfort with squishy toilet seats been articulated so well.
posted by jenjenc at 6:46 PM on September 24, 2017 [11 favorites]

I really enjoyed it and I think bittermensch nailed a lot of worked for me. I think one of the most interesting parts is how the show actually gives Alex some insight into the destructiveness of his behavior while the documentarists, who ultimately are far more destructive, remain unaware. I think that's a pretty powerful statement on the nature of how self aware makers of true crime shows/documentaries actually are. But even though it affords Alex some self awareness, even that is ultimately destructive to him as he realizes the truth of how he is perceived by others. I was surprised by how...hard it hit at the end.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:20 PM on September 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

I stayed up way too late watching this series and really enjoyed it - by the end I was less there for the comedy and more there for finding out who did the dicks. The faith in rumor, the petty tyranny of adults, and the whole getting super wrapped up in a weird little project felt very authentic to my high school experience.

It did make me a bit sad that the actress who played Gabi Granger was previously the Pink Power Ranger on Dino Charge (I have a 7 year old) and is still, years later, playing high school students. Also, that was the same school as the one from Brick, right?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:26 AM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Apparently the Brick one is San Clemente HS, and this was Palisades Charter.

Brick is one of my SO's favorite movies, so I asked her if it was set in the same high school. She said no... so well then I just had to check.
posted by fleacircus at 7:51 PM on October 22, 2017

I enjoyed the hell out of this. It had flown completely under my radar somehow (I guess Netflix doesn't think I like dick jokes?) but Mallory Ortberg was raving about it on her podcast for its perfect portrayal of so many different kinds of teenagers that you don't normally see in movies and tv shows. And I think they did that really well. Like others have said, the kids felt real, and they felt like actual teenagers.

I do see what Ivan is saying about Christa though - she was the one character that felt a bit off to me from the beginning. Though I guess maybe that makes sense given what we learn about her and her CPR skills.
posted by lunasol at 10:41 PM on October 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think the best moment in the series is the handjob recreation scene, which is where the satire and absurdity sync up completely. I think that was the only point when I was outright laughing.

I wouldn't call it too serious but it's incredibly dry which is kind of a fun thing to watch happen on screen. It's so hard to recommend it though.
posted by fleacircus at 9:42 AM on October 23, 2017

I enjoyed the hell out of this, wish that more of Sam's inquisitions made it into the show.

I think the teacher who got fired did it, because there's a clip of him walking angrily offstage when the gym teacher wins "teacher of the year." All we really know for sure is:
* The acting in this was amazing
* You could never pay me enough money to be in high school again
* Everybody likes Ming
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:39 PM on October 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Man, those final scenes where Dylan finally shows self-awareness blew me away.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:31 PM on December 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Peter is such a beautiful example of a "Lawful Neutral" character to me, in that he is so devoted to his obsessive principles that he can't see the utter immorality of what he's doing even while, as the series goes on, what he's documenting is more and more the carnage caused by his own documentary.

And while the Peter we see in the series remains more or less asexual (aside from some referenced revelations from Sam when he's super pissed) he's also maybe the best depiction I've seen of the "Nice Guy" mindset, so sure that he's the protagonist in his own story and intrinsically doing the right thing that he's beyond self-awareness. Sam could fall victim to this as well (and certainly takes it out more directly on Gabi, who doesn't need that shit) but he also has enough of a sense of humor to look inward and make a point to change. With Sara Pearson's callout and the Christa Carlyle theory it's clear that no matter what Pete says, ever new piece of information gives him a rush and he can't see any of it outside the lens of his own self-aggrandizement.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:34 AM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Okay, finally got around to seeing this and it's sooooo good. What starts out as a joke really grew the beard with depth. Wow.

Interesting theory on who drew the dicks and why.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:14 AM on June 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mefites kept bringing up this show on a recent posting about Netflix, so I checked it out, and I'm glad I did!

The first few episodes look like it's going to be a truly dumb satire, just a beat-for-beat remake of a true crime miniseries where dick graffiti is being investigated instead of murder. But then the show hooks you in with its storytelling and the simple thrill of piecing something together. Then the third act humanizes Dylan in a way that you might not think was possible.

One of the reasons it works is that the adults in this world suck pretty hard, and the final theory of what happened makes a good argument that they might have actually deserved the massive desecration of their cars.

As for alternate theories, I don't see the point. This is a fictional universe so there is no reason to posit anything that wasn't shown to us - if a gun appears in the first act it gets fired in the second act, et cetera.
posted by anhedonic at 8:14 PM on May 21, 2021

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