American Vandal Smartly Dicks Around with Crime Documentary Genre

American Vandal Plot Summary:

American Vandal takes a look at the aftermath of a high school prank that left 27 faculty members’ cars vandalized. But instead of the typical smashing of windows, the perpetrator drew obscene images on the vehicles. When troubled senior Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) is expelled for the crime, an aspiring sophomore documentarian (Tyler Alvarez) takes it upon himself to investigate the controversial, potentially unjust penalty handed down to Maxwell.

Who drew the dicks? That is the question I (and many others) wondered while watching Netflix’s new mockumentary, American Vandal. A high school film student named Peter is trying to uncover the truth of who spray painted twenty-seven dicks on twenty-seven teacher’s cars. Local troublemaker, Dylan Maxwell, a known dick drawer (it makes sense when you watch it) is expelled for the crime, pleading his innocence along the way. For eight episodes, each a little over thirty minutes, the evidence mounts for and against him, amongst others, sucking you into each and every detail until the truth is uncovered.

Reviewing this show is tricky. On one hand, it is a parody of many true crime documentaries, most notably Netflix’s own Making a Murderer. Evidence and hints are strewn around every episode (immaturely named after penis innuendos) and new suspects rise and fall every minute. On the other hand, trying to explain what happens is almost truly diving into spoiler territory.

We meet an array of very interesting characters; Dylan, our main suspect and troublemaker, the class douche, the jock, the whore, the valedictorian, the fat kid, the favorite teacher and the filmmaker behind the documentary. They’re interviewed as in a real documentary and this is where the real genius lies; it’s played straight. With such an absurd premise, the seriousness of it all makes it hilarious. Yes, the sophomoric subject of dicks is immature. But are we really going to pretend like it’s not funny? Some will, as many already hate the show based off the plot alone.

Much like Making a Murderer, this show turns anyone who watches it into an immediate detective. Unlike Murderer, this is played for laughs and every time I thought to myself “this person could have drawn the dicks,” I chuckle. Every time Peter finds a clue or loses a lead, you feel more and more invested.

At first glance, Peter’s intentions to uncover the truth seem genuine. They are but he doesn’t always go about it the right way. When he uncovers something, it really isn’t always related to the subject (such as illegitimate hand jobs and a friend’s cheating boyfriend). But what makes him so compelling is his understanding of journalism and bias. Dylan is convicted of this crime based on a bias against his character, never really having a chance to prove his innocence. It’s actually eye opening about how bias affects us, whether it be with crime, politics, music or whatever is in our cultural zeitgeist.

American Vandal is fantastic. I blew through it in less than five hours and immediately told everyone I knew to watch it. Again, at first glance, it sounds like a very stupid idea. And yeah, it is. American Vandal is vulgar, crass and stupid…and brilliant. Watch it now!

Rating: 8 out of 10

American Vandal is currently airing on Netflix.