If you’re like me, you’ve had in-depth conversations with your friends about Serial’s Adnan Syed. You’ve dug into theories about his innocence, listened to new evidence about the cell phone records, and decided who could have really killed Hae Min Lee. You’ve watched Making a Murderer (probably in one weekend) and were left feeling torn about Steven Avery’s role in Teresa Halbach’s murder. You’ve raised your voice in polite conversation about how Avery didn’t get a fair trial.
Serial podcast and Netflix’s Making a Murderer are just two of the true-crime docs that grabbed our attention in the past few years. They turned the casual podcast listener into an Internet sleuth, and the weekend Netflix viewer into an insatiable binge-watcher. Even if you were fully engrossed in these hard-hitting true-crime stories, Netflix now has a mockumentary that will do the exact same thing to you, except it’s a mystery about who spray-painted 27 dicks on 27 cars in a high-school faculty lot. The moment you finish reading this, you should go watch American Vandal. Here’s why, with no spoilers.
It capitalizes on the true-crime documentary genre, and it does it well.
The show’s co-creators, Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, cite Serial, Making a Murder, The Jinx, and The Staircase as major influences on their creation of American Vandal. And while American Vandal is a mockumentary, the production value rivals that of any of those crime docs listed above. It’s so well done, in fact, that it barely seems like a mockumentary at all. (Except for all the dicks, of course. There are a lot of dicks.)
The cast of actors is so believable as high-school sleuths and potential suspects that it really feels like you’re watching actual teenagers do real investigative journalism about red spray-painted penises. And you’ll be hooked, just like you were after episode one of Making a Murderer.
It captures high school perfectly.
The types of students that populate Hanover High School are more than just typical stereotypes. Sure, there’s the overachieving class president, the burnouts, the nerds, and the creepy honor-roll kid who’s trying to be cool. But they’re also so real-feeling, and so unique. Dylan’s friend group, the self-titled “Wayback Boys” (which includes a girl), evoke a kind of nostalgia when you see them hanging out together, even if you’ve never been part of this kind of group.
The show’s use of cell phone video footage, especially Snapchat videos, gives viewers a fresh take on watching evidence unfold in front of them, but it also shows teens interacting at parties and at school in a way that captures something really genuine about the high-school experience. (It was no surprise to me when I read that the show’s co-creators also listed Freaks and Geeks as an influence.)
I can't overstate this: it's freaking hilarious.
American Vandal is laugh-out-loud funny in all eight episodes. Sure, there are dick jokes. But this isn’t like 15-year-old-boy-gross-out humor. It’s seriously smart and cutting humor. There are smart dick jokes. You will tweet using the hashtag #whodrewthedicks?.
More than dick jokes though, the satire of the whole concept is spot-on. It looks and feels like a true crime documentary, complete with the overly serious, nerdy documentarians (played by Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck), genuinely funny computerized re-enactments of key moments (including one about a handjob), and actually suspenseful cliffhangers when groundbreaking clues are discovered. You will get invested in “ball hair.” You’ll see what I mean.
The key suspect, Dylan Maxwell (played brilliantly by Jimmy Tatro) is a lovable loser who you really root for. But he’s also the guy with YouTube videos called “Baby Farting” and a student who’s known for drawing dicks on Ms. Shapiro’s whiteboards almost daily. He’s flawed, but he’s sympathetic.
And he’s got some hilarious personality quirks, like the fact that he won’t poop at his friend Lucas’s house because his mom has a squishy toilet seat, which “are like pressing your butt against someone else’s butt, and then pooping into their butthole.” So he does his business at an antique store down the street called Priceless Moments. But this isn’t just a weird poop joke for the sake of a poop joke. It becomes a key part of Dylan’s alibi. That’s the beauty of this show. All the weird stuff ties back into the crime and becomes part of the investigation.
It will get you thinking. And talking.
This show isn’t a simple comedy that you turn off and walk away from. You will actually start to care who did the dicks. You will develop theories. You will look for clues in everything Dylan says, everything Peter sees behind the scenes, and every weird alibi the secondary characters have.
One night, after finishing the fifth episode, my husband and I were lying in bed, and he said, “Okay. So we both get five guesses for who drew the dicks.” We proceeded to talk for a full hour about our theories and the reasons behind those theories. I texted friends to talk about which teachers I thought were sketchy and which students had the capability of committing such a crime. I talked about this “case” with the same passion I had for Making a Murderer, knowing all the while that this one is entirely fictional.
What are you waiting for?
Go watch American Vandal. And please, please message me with your theories. I’m dying to talk to more people about this.
About the Blog
The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.