Hard Facts: Vandalism and Vulgarity
A Limp Alibi
Whilst American Vandal may look like a goofy satire on the surface, underneath the spray painted penises and hilarious gags is a surprisingly gripping mystery. This mockumentary is consistently well written and enjoyable throughout, parodying a lot of true crime tropes whilst keeping its focus on the subject material and staying faithful to the serious tone in adopts throughout. During the 8 episode run time you’ll find yourself gripped by the mystery, plagued by one burning question – who did draw the dicks?
The 8 episodes have a consistency about them that runs pretty closely to the way Making A Murderer (a serious Netflix true crime series) is set up. It begins with the crime itself – £100,000 worth of damage caused to 27 cars in the school parking lot. Each car marked with a penis in red spray paint and one car graced with what appears to be a slashed tyre. When known prankster Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) is accused of the act and suspended from school, fellow student and keen documentarian Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and classmate Sam (Griffin Gluck) set out to uncover the true story of what happened that fateful afternoon and whether Dylan really did do it. The episodes focus on different elements of the crime, cleverly pacing the mystery and following multiple leads while keeping the laughs flowing throughout.
Presentation wise, American Vandal absolutely nails the mood and feel of the show. The investigation uses a clever mix of interviews, sweeping shots of the high school and various other techniques to give this a real true crime feel. Although American Vandal is first and foremost a satirical piece of television, its profoundly gripping mystery is the real driving point of the show and it manages to answer almost every question it raises. The clever use of social media, from the hashtags of twitter through to fake conversations that look like they’re ripped from Reddit, really go a long way to make it seem like American Vandal is based on a real story. It is of course, not.
Anyone going into this expecting to find a resolution to the burning question of who actually drew the penises will be disappointed. It is hinted at, and almost resolved but its left up to us, the viewers, to pass our own judgement over what we’ve seen through the episodes. What is fascinating though, is the way American Vandal manages to bring so many societal issues to the forefront of this mockumentary turning it into something that’s intended to be a comedic satire whilst underlying something so much more. This series proves its very easy to pass judgement on people, to point the finger and blame someone for a crime they may or may not have done but to actually gain evidence and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that an individual did a crime is a lot harder to do. This, in my opinion, is why American Vandal works so well and why it deserves a watch.
What starts as a fun, satirical mockumentary evolves over the 8 episodes into something gripping and well worth investing the time to watch. Whilst the show does lose some of the initial humour in the closing episodes, what replaces it arguably makes American Vandal a lot more mature and profound. The questions asked around injustice and the well thought out mystery with numerous suspects is very nicely presented and coupled with an interesting blend of amateur and professional camera footage will have you questioning who drew the penises almost as much as the documentarians themselves. Its not perfect, but American Vandal is a very well made show and one of the better satires released this year.