Title: American Vandal (2017)
Genre: Mockumetary, Satire
Stars: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Jimmy Tatro, Camille Hyde
In a Nutshell: Senior burnout and known prankster, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) from Hanover High School is accused of the most heinous crime the school has ever seen — someone spray painted a dick on each of the 27 cars in the staff parking lot. Here’s the thing though — Dylan says he didn’t do this prank. Luckily for him, sophomore and aspiring filmmaker, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez), offers to uncover the truth by making a documentary in the vein of true crime series such as Making a Murderer, Serial, and The Jinx. With the help of the school’s news crew (and camera equipment), Peter and his friends go to great lengths to answer the age-old question: who drew the dicks?
The Critique: American Vandal is a show I’ve purposefully avoided over the past couple of months. It seems too bro-y, I would think to myself. "Really, another mockumentary!?" I would yell at my neighbor’s cat. After hearing people I trust with my entire heart tell me it’s actually brilliant, I finally decided to cave in and watch it. And honestly? American Vandal IS brilliant. Many of its naysayers (who haven’t watched it) claim that its comedy rests on a one-note joke: dicks drawn on cars. But there is so, so, SO much more to this mockumentary. For one, it’s an impeccably executed satire concerning America’s obsession with true crime entertainment. It takes a ridiculous crime and documents it with the same passion, suspense, and mystery the aforementioned true crime series evoke. Truly, I’ve had people tell me they originally thought the series was an actual documentary. After watching it, I realized that this is because although the show deals with the type of broad humor your average 16-year-old boy would find funny, it’s actually quite subtle. Every time Dylan goes for a cheap laugh, Peter is discrediting him via the narration; whenever you think the show might earnestly embrace it’s main character’s sophomoric humor, it does the exact opposite and tells us he’s not that funny. The result: it ends up making Dylan seem REALLY funny. It’s an impressive balancing act that is achieved in part because the characters are so good, and dare I say it, some of the most realistically depicted high school characters in any TV Show. The social politics of the school are actually believable in that kids from different social circles intermingle and know each other’s business. Not only that, but also the teachers and their petty relationships with one another and with the students are also incredibly true to life. Yep, the teachers are heavily involved with the uncovering of this mystery, leaving Peter and his friends entering some uncomfortable (and for that reason, hilarious) territory when confronting their authority figures for answers. I can’t praise this element of the show enough; it really nails taking its main characters to boundaries they know they probably should not cross, but do anyway. It gives you the sense that they're tired of feeling powerless — something anyone who’s dealt with the sh*tstorm that is high school can relate to. The show takes on the familiar “no one really knows me” message of other high school oriented entertainment, but does this exceptionally well too. Tatro’s Dylan may seem insufferable, but as the series progresses, you see hints at a giant, swelling heart and a person desperate not to fulfill a destiny others have helped shape for him. The characters give the show a solid emotional core, but the mystery itself will also have you playing episode after episode. Indeed, you will find yourself aching to know WHO exactly drew those dicks as Peter and his friends accumulate more evidence and bravely follow new leads, despite how it may affect their lives and the lives of others.
Shout-outs(s): Tyler Alvarez’s Peter is an effortless audience surrogate that you can easily get behind, mainly because he seems like such a good, smart person and a great friend. Jimmy Tatro’s Dylan is admittedly iconic. ‘Nuff said. Calum Worthy as Alex Trimboli is…transcendent? No, but I truly have never seen anyone perfect the smarmy kid that is desperate to be cool so well. As Dylan would say, he truly is a “LIL’ BITCH.” Give him all of the awards. Honorable mentions also have to be awarded to Camille Hyde as Gabi, the perfectly sweet best friend to Peter and Griffin (Sam Ecklund, who also pairs fabulously with Alvarez) and to Camille Ramsey as Mackenzie Wagner, playing disaffected youth to a tee. LAST BUT NOT LEAST, Ryan O’Flanagan as Mr. Kraz is bafflingly hilarious and unrelenting (a character the show also doesn’t let get ahead of himself, knocking him down at the just the right moments). See, the characters are TOO good! I implore you to watch.