American Vandal: New Netflix Series and Compelling Satire
You can probably tell by the number of television reviews that I have written lately that I am spending a lot of time on Netflix. Judge if you must, but I am here to tell you that some of the cleverest and groundbreaking series are to be found on this service and one of their latest offerings, American Vandal, is compelling satire that tackles, among other things, social media, our fascination with crime series, and even makes fun of another Netflix true-crime series by spoofing its approach. American Vandal may have a few imperfections along the way, but I think you will find more than enough to keep you hooked to end of its eight episode arc.
The program is a mock documentary, put together by an earnestly-ambitious high school student named Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) who, through making the film, will solve a mystery that is plaguing his school. During a teacher in-service day, a student snuck into the faculty parking lot, and spray-painted dicks on 27 teacher cars (yes, as in penises). The student who takes the fall for the vandalism and who is ultimately expelled is Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), the senior class clown and troublemaker. Peter thinks Dylan is innocent and goes to work with his buddy Sam (Griffin Gluck) to find the real culprit. The mystery takes several twists and turns along the way as a variety of witnesses, suspects, and theories are explored.
Without a whole lot of subtlety, the series is a spoof of Making a Murderer, the Netflix documentary that set-out to exonerate a man who many believe was wrongly imprisoned for murder by a corrupt police department that may have framed him. In American Vandal, the corrupt system is the school itself: a quick-to-anger Vice Principal, a goody-goody Spanish Teacher who has it in for Dylan, a gym teacher who has his secrets. Also in the mix are the student body president Christa Carlyle (played by Disney star G. Hannelius), attention seeking douche Alex Trimboli (played by Disney star Calum Worthy), and Dylan’s girlfriend Mackenzie Wagner (Camille Ramsey). In fact, as the story unfolds, doors open and the list of possibilities grows. It is a uniquely thought out mystery that keeps us guessing until the very end while making some very astute observations about how we easily criminalize (and judge) people without facts or evidence.
My only quibble with American Vandal was with its repetitive nature and occasional snail-like pace. What is told over eight episodes could have easily been accomplished in six. With a little tightening, the show would hold our attention and its messages would have distinctly more punch. That being said, the cast is uniformly wonderful, the tone they jointly set is perfect, and American Vandal makes for an effective parable on how social media can both ruin and save lives. It’s the dichotomy of the two that keeps American Vandal compelling and why I recommend giving it a watch.