I’ll be honest; I am beginning to lose faith in Netflix originals.
Netflix has produced amazing content that has been renown throughout the world. Series like Stranger Things, Riverdale, Orange is the New Black, and 13 Reasons Why have contributed to Netflix’s mass popularity and continued success.
However, their successful content contributes only a small percentage to their plethora of options. There are countless flopped attempts such as Friends from College, Haters Back Off!, and the most recent widely-hated remake of The Death Note, all of which have lowered the quality and standards of Netflix original content.
That’s why when I saw an advertisement for American Vandal, my initial reaction was met with skepticism. Especially with a summary that quotes, “Truth. Lies. Dicks.” it was easy to laugh off. And as a satirical mockumentary, or to use Netflix’s definition “true crime satire”, that is one purpose of the series. American Vandal provides its fair share of outrageous comedy that promises a good laugh, depending on the spectator’s sense of humor.
Actor Jimmy Tatro, who portrays Dylan Maxwell, stated in an interview with E! Entertainment that “the [reality] of the situation brings out the comedy, so that juxtaposition is what makes it funny.” And Tatro is correct; that complexity that the series provides is what brings the audience that outrageous humor.
First with the initial premise: Hanover High School student Dylan Maxwell has been accused of vandalizing twenty-seven faculty cars with phallic images, amounting to $100,000 in total damages. How can one not even snicker at the absurdity of the situation?
It even becomes more hilariously asinine when documentarians Peter Maldonado and Sam Ecklund begin comparing elements of the phallic drawings such as missing ball hairs and mushroom-shaped tips. The series follows this comedic pattern following through to the second episode. However, the premise is temporarily changed in order to validate the character of snitch Alex Tromboli, and Peter and Sam have to ask themselves a new question: did Alex receive a hand job from popular pretty girl Sara Pearson?
From identifying an immature vandal to investigating a petty rumor — how is it remotely possible for these two to connect?
It is elements such as the aforementioned that provides the series’ ridiculous humor, but the progression of the storyline proves that it is much more than a comedic mockumentary. By creating that juxtaposition of absurdity and reality, American Vandal is crafted in that complexity that is so subtle, yet so clever.
After all the jokes that have been made, the spectator will feel immersed in the Hanover High School community because of the suspense and drama involved. If the viewer initially began the series for a good laugh, they will eventually be drawn into the story and become impatiently curious about the series’ main question: who drew the dicks? Essentially audiences will come for the comedy, yet stay for the story.
This immersion would not be possible without character Peter Maldonado, played by actor Tyler Alvarez. As the primary documentarian, Peter is the strongest character in the series because he is able to lead audiences through his experience and make them feel like it is their own, allowing them to properly engage with the story being told. Alvarez’s portrayal of the character is what makes that sensation possible and through his acting, transforms the experience of American Vandal into one similar to watching Making a Murderer.
The true crime satire also does a great job of exposing real-life issues concerning investigative journalism and documentary filmmaking. The discussion of corrupt authority figures was easy to cover in a high school setting. It’s easy for high school faculty to take advantage of their authority but when it becomes an issue of censorship and free speech, it’s important to fight back.
Another important topic that American Vandal examined was the issue of bias. Peter states that the purpose of the documentary was to eliminate bias, a point which is especially important to consider when he is the one that begins to succumb to his own bias. The issue is beautifully discussed in a passionate confrontation from Peter towards Dylan, allowing the viewers to understand Peter’s frustration and faults.
To remain objective during any investigation is vital yet difficult when the investigator gets too involved with the story. The issue of bias is one that isn’t commonly covered and is easily forgotten; for American Vandal to discuss it not only adds to the fascinating story, it’s also a lesson for the viewers to consider.
Unfortunately, this well-crafted and sophisticated true crime satire was met with an overly-ambiguous and dissatisfying finale. Considering that this was only one of few weak points of the series, it doesn’t ruin the overall quality of the series but instead weakens the possibility of definitive closure. Aside from the lack of a strong ending, the eight-part series proved to be much stronger than most of the mediocre Netflix originals that are available today.
If you have a good four hours to spare this weekend, American Vandal will be a worthy addition to your watch list.