The popular true crime parody series, American Vandal, is back on Netflix for its second season. Praised by critics the first season gained a strong following rather quickly. Until just recently, I held off on the show up even with the positive feedback. I’m not a huge fan of true crime and a parody of it wasn’t something I thought that I would be interested in. However, the second season was soon to be released with even bigger buzz. So I broke down and started watching it. What I found in Season 1 was a true gem of a show that lived up to all the praise. I was surprised that a show that parodies true crime stories with the central mystery of “who drew the dicks” could be as interesting, funny and deep as it was. That is what made the show so great, there was much more than what appeared on the surface. I realized that quickly into the first season and after a quick binge, I was a fan.
As great as the first season was, a second season raised some red flags. I wasn’t sure a true crime parody would work for one season, much less two. Part of the charm of American Vandal is that it was a fresh take on the genre, could that be sustained over another season? The premise alone was enough to calm most of my doubts. This time around our lead investigators, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck), leave Oceanside, California. Working to solve the mystery of “The Brownout”, they travel to St. Berardine, a prep school in Bellevue, Washington. Whatever you think “The Brownout” is, I can assure you that it is not that. “The Brownout” is one of the stranger things I’ve ever seen depicted on television, especially in seriousness that American Vandal delivers their story. One day during lunch at St. Berardine’s the lemonade is spiked with a laxative and soon a large number of students began pooping, so many that there was not enough bathrooms for them and the students started pooping themselves. If not for the first season, the premise would be a bridge too far and I couldn’t have watched this. It was gross, strange, ridiculous, and brilliant all at the same time. Only American Vandal could make all of that work.
Anytime you revisit a story, whether it is a sequel or an additional season, there is a burden to be better. This is all the more true when the original was as much of a success as Season 1 of American Vandal. You could see a bit of that burden in the second season. With a larger budget and audience, creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda took bigger chances. The prank was bigger, both in scale and in actual numbers; there was actually four. This prank wouldn’t have worked in the first season, for multiple reasons, but it was the perfect prank for the second. It was completely different from the first and compelling enough to surround the central mystery around. Most importantly, “The Brownout” and the mystery surrounding the Turd Burglar was a lot of fun, and very funny. Toilet humor isn’t usually something that I am entertained by because it is among the lowest levels of humor. The poop humor worked because Perrault and Yacenda leaned into just how ridiculous it was. While it was played for humor it was also a tool used to bring about a much bigger joke. The ultra serious approach that was taken was hilarious, especially when at the end of the day they are trying to find someone named the Turd Burglar. There were several times when you can’t help but laugh at the conversations taking place on screen because what they are talking about is so ridiculous.
The ridiculous story was brought to life by some very solid performances. Similar to the first season, the cast is made up of relative unknowns. The only familiar faces from the first season are the main investigators, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck). This time around these two don’t really have their own plotline, they just set the tone for the season and do a good job of bringing out the major themes. Travis Tope and Melvin Gregg joined this season as two of the major supporting characters, Kevin McClain and DeMarcus Tillman. These two are given a lot to do and they deliver pretty well. Both DeMarcus and Kevin have very unique personalities that are a bit over the top in conception. Both play misunderstood characters that we are to misjudge based on our own misconceptions and bias. DeMarcus was especially good as the dumb jock/future star. He was believable as a future Division 1 athlete as well a misunderstood, lonely teenager that doesn’t know who to trust. There was real depth to his character that Gregg brought to life in a real way. American Vandal works in part because the people feel real. Even if they are exaggerated or thrown into a ridiculous situation they still feel real. Casting relative unknowns helps them feel real but it’s also a risk because the show asks a lot of them. In Season 2 it worked just as well, if not better than it did the first time around.
If a fun comedy about teenagers pooping themselves isn’t enough of a sell for you, then the true crime should be. As ridiculous as it may sound, “Who is the Turd Burglar?” is a very compelling mystery. There were a number of plausible suspects and they were all presented as tangible options. Each suspect had a compelling story and each suspect that was ruled out was done so in a compelling way. It was a true puzzle being put together in front my eyes and eventually, I gave up trying to find out. I found it made the season all the more interesting because I couldn’t figure out who it was. Part of the reason I’m not a big fan of true crime is because more often than not I find the conclusion of the story to be a bit unsatisfying. Either it was an obvious choice or a random one and either way I don’t find that very interesting. American Vandal works for me because they stuck the landing. The conclusion of the story was just as compelling as the story itself. I’m sure this is largely due to the fact that it is fiction; nonetheless the answer to the central question is very interesting and satisfying. On the strength of the mystery alone, Season 2 of American Vandal is worth watching.
American Vandal is a great show. It is a lot of fun and it’s easy to watch. It will make you laugh and have you thinking. They were able to balance the humor with some pretty heavy commentary on bullying, social media, catfishing, student athletes and hiding behind the face we present on the Internet. There were plenty of quiet moments when you are forced to reflect on how you present yourself on social media or what role you would play in this story. This is where the show really gets you. It pulls you in with the poop but leaves you with some heavy ideas. “We are all full of shit”, that is the theme that you walk away with. We don’t really know anyone on social media and we are living in an age where it is constantly growing and becoming more important. We hide behind the faces we present through our pictures and our statuses. Season 2 of American Vandal shows how dangerous that can be. That important theme is woven into an incredibly fun story. Season 2 is a great show and should definitely be on your Netflix watchlist.
Creators: Dan Perrault & Tony Yacenda Starring: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Travis Tope, DeMarcus Tillman & Taylor Dearden Comedy: 8 Episodes (8 reviewed), Netflix