With so much TV hitting our screens nowadays, American Vandal will probably fly under a lot of radars due to its lack of big names and its ‘mockumentary’ label. I am here to convince you that this show is, without a doubt, a masterpiece and well worth a place on the top of your watchlist.
Essentially, this show revolves around a single drawn out dick joke. The crime centred on this show is all the teachers’ cars at a high school being spray painted with dicks. A troublemaking student, Dylan Maxwell, is accused and expelled, solely based on his past antics. Two students from the same high school, Peter and Sam, begin a documentary not too long after to find out the truth of what really happened.
As this show somewhat parodies other crime documentaries like Serial and Making a Murderer, this show could have easily been a dumb comedy, making fun of the situation and the documentary format. Instead, the show embraces its roots and goes out of its way to be as professional and serious as possible. A saving point for Dylan is the fact that the dicks he has drawn in the past don’t match the ones from the vandalism. Even though this sounds like a stupid argument on the surface, the show – or, to be more specific, Peter and Sam – treats this as a serious piece of evidence that helps the case. Throughout all the episodes, we’re treated to in-depth analysis of unusual and seemingly dumb pieces of evidence and to see how they build towards the bigger picture.
“We see the social dynamics of the school, instead of it being used as a backdrop”
No investigation is perfect, and Peter and Sam hit several roadblocks and dead ends on their way to find out the truth. But for every hypothesis and piece of evidence that’s investigated, we find out more and more about the high school and the people. We see the social dynamics of school, how the teachers are looked at from the eyes of the students and other teachers, and what dirty secrets people have been hiding. This makes the high school environment feel more involved and relevant in a unique way, in stark contrast from other forms of media where it is typically used as a backdrop for other plotlines.
Another thing unique about this documentary is that it is ‘filmed’ by students of the school. This adds an extra layer of complexity as the students are investigating their own teachers and their fellow peers. In a more realistic depiction to previous shows in the past, we see how the documentary leads to repercussions in the real world as, amongst other things, a teacher gets fired and a relationship is broken up. Peter and Sam indulge in a lot of shady journalism practises like sharing private conversations and messages, as well as secretly recording conversations. To the show’s credit, we see them get called out on a lot of their actions and directions multiple times. It’s interesting to see a documentary affecting the lives of the creators and those around them.
This show is even able to convey a message to its viewers if you read between the lines. High school is ultimately a turbulent and uncertain time for many. A lot of people have their futures written off, solely based on what a teacher marks down as well as what the people around may think of them. Even though it may seem like a lot of effort to prove the innocence of an already morally dubious student, it raises the question of whether we really can or deserve to just write people off so easily. A truly heartening moment in the series is when Dylan tries to turn over a new leaf and become a model student. But once he hears what his teacher and his peers think of him, he descends back into his old antics, venting his frustration and wondering whether it’d be easier to just be the delinquent everyone assumes he already is.
“The fact that all the footage is ‘filmed’ by students adds a layer of complexity to the plot”
It’s not just the quality and production level of the show which is so high, but also the skill and performance of the actors. Even though most are relatively small-scale or unknown, they are all able to give very powerful and believable performances. One highlight for me was when Dylan’s girlfriend was being grilled on where exactly she was during the vandalism. She says no lines while being questioned but the way the actress’ expressions change and her eyes well up is comparable to any emotionally-intense scene in Hollywood today.
American Vandal is exceptionally intense and addictive. As the investigation proceeds forward in both the most serious and ludicrous ways, you’ll find yourself invested in everyone’s lives, appreciating all the big and small moments the show has to offer. At the end of the day, it provides an earnest and emotional look at high school through the eyes of someone written off as a joke.
American Vandal is available on Netflix now.
Creators: Dan Perrault, Tony Yacenda. Starring: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Jimmy Tatro, Camille Hyde.