Ok, I’m going to make a great big declarative statement on paper that will forever be pointed at in arguments: I am a snob. There I said it ,and it feels good to get that out there. I am a snob and I am proud. When I go to the store, I don’t like to buy generic ibuprofen, I want Advil because I feel like the name has super powers and it will work better. I don’t want to relive my childhood and watch Gobots – forget that lame crap, I want the real thing – give me my Transformers. So, when I sat down to watch American Vandal, did I get a name brand product or did I get the cheaper knockoff? Is this Airplane, or Meet the Spartans?
American Vandal is a true-crime (no, it’s not) satire (yes, it definitely is) that explores the aftermath of a costly high school prank which left twenty-seven faculty cars vandalized with phallic images. Peter Maldonado is – for a lack of a better description – a young, unassuming male, but just as well-spoken as Sarah Koenig. If that name doesn’t ring a bell then the podcast that brought her to the forefront will, Serial. Peter and his investigative team, which is made up of his best friend and a girl who can drive, take a deep dive into this puzzle and bring a camera along for every step of the way. Their main goals are to solve the mystery in the crime and overturn the expulsion of the school number one suspect, Dylan Maxwell, a burnout stoner with delusions of being the next Jackass maestro.
It sounds silly but the story and the mystery within this piece are solid. They call this show a satire or a parody, but the truth is, it takes its own ridiculous concept seriously. I had trouble remembering that it was a satire numerous times. I wanted to know who really did it! I was invested! I almost printed my own FREE DYLAN shirt. It feels nutty to admit it, especially considering that not an ounce of this story was true…but it could be.
The cast of American Vandal is huge, but I can safely say that every single one of them had me snowed over. They were those people, there wasn’t a single “actor” in the bunch. Having said that, this is not a real-life thing. This is a cast, and these are actors. I swear!
Tyler Alvarez as Peter Maldonado solidly carried the “Sarah Koenig” role to the extent of delivering lines just like she would and executing the drama with strength and earnest. At no point does he wink at the camera or play like this is a joke, it’s legit as far as Peter is concerned. Jimmy Tatro as Dylan really makes himself hard to like, but also walks a fine line of vulnerability and charm. Eduardo Franco, Lou Wilson, and Jessica Juarez are the Wayback Boys, Dylan’s best friends and prankster compatriots, I dare you to look at people you have known in high school and not see this exact group. And as the list of the cast can go on, I bet you every actor executed their role enough to make you believe that you know someone from your school days just like them.
As I’ve might have mentioned somewhere in here, I consume a lot of true crime. Serial, listened to it. Making a Murderer, binged it. The Staircase, watched the crap out of it and researched if an owl can murder someone. Recently I put myself on a true crime diet, it was beginning to stress me out. American Vandal was the perfect palate cleanser for a true crime buff like me. It hit all the visual checkmarks. Sweeping drone footage of a school, check. Animations – good animations of how the crime was committed – check. Long and uncomfortable shots of people staring directly into the camera, check! There is even a point when these kids start working out paint can splatter. Every hallmark of a good true crime doc was hit to an appropriate affect.
So, is American Vandal the cheap knock-off brand trying to cut in on the success of the real thing? I am going to have to say, no. It is, at its heart, a great TV mystery. Sure, they call it a satire or a parody but it doesn’t play out like either. This isn’t a tongue-in-cheek joke. The show seems to take a crime that is ridiculous and treat it with a gravity that leaves the viewer believing that this could be the real thing. So should you as a consumer feel safe and secure in buying this brand? Yes. It will cleanse your palate, clear your head, and make you ask; “But who drew the dicks?!”American Vandal is now streaming exclusively on Netflix
Hear John’s review on Episode 286 of The Hollywood Outsider Podcast