‘American Vandal’ mockumentary entertains, confounds
It’s part satire, part teen-drama, but “American Vandal” spoofs “true crime” docuseries like “Making a Murderer” into a school setting—and resoundingly succeeds.
The eight-episode Netflix show follows a California high school dealing with a confounding mystery: Who spray-painted a phallus on each of the 27 teachers’ cars?
The main suspect is the class clown, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), who has a history of drawing them. His pranking and vandalizing ways are no secret to his schoolmates and teachers, making him an easy scapegoat.
With surveillance videos of the crime missing, two students, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) investigate, hoping their documentary will lead to the real culprit—or maybe even prove that Dylan did it all along.
“American Vandal,” following a familiar mockumentary format, goes through various figures from the school, from questionable teachers to possibly disgruntled students who might have the right motive to cause such costly damage.
In the process, not only does the investigation expose the weaknesses and failings of school authorities, it also brings up the circuitous lies that some students maintain to survive school.
Dylan is an easier target for expulsion—he’s been a transparent goofball since he was young, doing dumb videos for his YouTube channel without really considering the repercussions. But what if making himself look like he’s being framed was his plan all along?
Portrayed consistently by the gravelly voiced Tatro, Dylan is the ideal embodiment of hilarity and frustration—perhaps even of simple-mindedness, a weird combo that attracts an on-again, off-again girlfriend in Mackenzie, a gamer girl impressively played by Camille Ramsey.
Interestingly, the investigators themselves aren’t excluded from being suspects in the case; Peter and Sam could also have their own plausible reasons for drawing on the cars.
Still, there are other figures who may warrant more attention and may be overlooked in the boys’ already-thorough documentary.
“American Vandal” manages to contain that mystery into eight half-hour episodes, but in “true crime” fashion, it also offers enough vagueness to keep viewers hooked and entertained.
Dishing enough dirt on some controlling or altogether inept faculty members, as well as some of the reputation-making and -breaking bonds between high school students, it’s often gritty and sordid, with profane language to match. But it’s still accessible and insightful enough, offering textured and honest representations of the still-evolving young person.
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