This Netflix series was a hilarious parody of true-crime documentaries
The enduring popularity of the true crime genre has outlasted fashion and become a permanent fixture in entertainment. One can hardly scroll through Netflix without knowing more about one serial killer or another than they like, but at least some have boldly set out to poke fun at the genre.
Parody is going through a rough patch as a genre, and the golden age of parody film is long dead. The face of the genre in modern times is unfortunately the abyssal production of Seltzer and Friedberg as epic movie Where Vampires Suck. Fraudulent media have a much better time on TV, and even better on streaming TV. Landmarks like Documentary now show the strength of the medium, and projects like american vandal prove that parody is alive and well.
american vandal is a detective documentary in the mold of make a murderer Where Serialwhich ran for two seasons in 2017 and 2018. The series was created by Tony Yacenda, who later directed a heartfelt documentary series episode Trial by the mediaand Dan Perrault, who wrote the next film wanderers. The duo wrote and directed the play, with production assistance from studios such as Funny or Die. The series was canceled after the second season, but would still be purchased on other networks or services. It stars Tyler Alvarez, best known for the Nickelodeon sitcom Every Witch Wayand Jimmy Tatro, a veteran actor with roles in films like 22 jump street.
american vandal has the simple presence, production value and presentation of a true-crime documentary, applied to an incident with far lower stakes. The first season is set in a California high school that has recently been rocked by an act of vandalism. Twenty-seven faculty cars at Hanover High were defaced with phallic imagery, and the investigation found its suspected culprit. This crime goes beyond the level of prank and threatens the culprit with deportation, a six-figure fine and felony charges. Senior class clown Dylan is immediately blamed, but a fearless school reporter named Peter breaks the rules and asks tough questions to uncover the truth. Peter and his best friend Sam uncover high school drama, teenage deception, faculty malfeasance, and sometimes serious hidden issues. It’s an intense mystery, chock-full of immature humor, but focused on both solving real social problems and critiquing the weak points of the true-crime documentary genre.
The series as the audience experiences it exists in the narrative, Peter uploads each episode to YouTube after it ends, and the characters are constantly reacting to the secrets being revealed. Because the investigation is conducted by 15-year-olds, it’s largely stupid and most real breakthroughs happen by accident. Peter and Sam take strange tangents to investigate their classmates’ actions, only tangentially related to the vandalism case. Dylan looks guilty at every turn, but there’s an odd charm to his immature hedonism. The documentary enters strange territory with its characters, but the negative consequences are addressed. He points a definite finger at the dangers of real crime media, the negative attention that often comes to secondary characters. It’s both clever and childish, clever and crude, it works on many levels. The series’ ending thesis, the true horror of someone finally knowing what everyone thinks of them, is delivered with chilling perfection.
The second season of the series does not hold up as well as the first. Peter and Sam, made famous by the show’s first season and now canonically funded by Netflix, head to another school to investigate a new crime. The first season benefits from all the major characters existing in the same ecosystem. The high school’s ever-changing sociological ecosystem and all the players involved influencing each other like rival nations in times of war were key to the tension. The second season lacks that, but still manages the clever juxtaposition of serious presentation and pot humor. The need to go deeper forces season 2 into more extravagant crime, and while it’s gross, it’s a bit more gruesome than the phallic degradation of the first season. The first season is a work of art with a fantastic ending, but fans will appreciate the evolution of the second season’s format.
Execution is everything with american vandal. The idea could have easily been a boring waste of time, but the series elevates the simple concept with excellent writing and direction. american vandal will work best on sketch comedy fans, those who had a hard time in high school, and anyone who is fed up make a murderer format. The mockumentary subgenre has been the source of some of the best comedies of the generation, and this one is a great addition to those hallowed halls. american vandal is available on Netflix now.
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