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‘American Vandal’ Season 1 Review: A True-Crime Satire That’s One of Netflix’s Best Shows

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CREDIT: Netflix

Network: Netflix

Showrunner: Dan Lagana

Main Cast: Jimmy Tatro, Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Camille Hyde

Notable Guest Stars: Saxon Sharbino, G. Hannelius

Episode Length: 25-42 Minutes

American Vandal’s premise is simple, and laughable: It’s like Making a Murderer, but with dick drawings instead of murder. Despite the absurdity of that brief synopsis, it’s true. American Vandal revolves around Hanover High School senior Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), who is facing expulsion and disciplinary action following a prank that left 27 cars at the school vandalized with giant, graffitied penises. Dylan’s the poster-child for that bro-ey douchebag that you probably went to high school with, so he’s the obvious suspect in this case. But what if he didn’t do it?

That’s where Hanover sophomore Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez), who is filming a documentary surrounding the ordeal, comes in. His doc is also titled American Vandal, and Peter makes it clear to us throughout that he’s not interested in exonerating Dylan; he just wants to find the truth. Peter works with Dylan extensively to get the bottom of the situation and answer the show’s most pervasive question: who drew the dicks?

The answer isn’t as simple as you think it is. Over the course of eight episodes, the web of intrigue only gets bigger, as one dead end leads into another. This is the show’s most notable parody of the true-crime shows it takes inspiration from, and it puts a fresh new spin on them. For example,Vandal makes occasional use of diagrams that attempt to piece together certain events of testimonies from suspects. Peter and his documentary partner Sam (Griffin Gluck) attempt to prove the legitimacy of an eyewitness testimony by going to the spot where the suspect once claimed he had gotten a handjob. Once there, an animated recreation is shown detailing that from many angles no one could’ve seen the handjob taking place, thus calling into question the suspect’s reliability. It’s moments like these that make up much of the humor and personality of the show, and if you don’t think that description is all that funny, then the show probably isn’t for you.

But if you’re perfectly okay with a little raunchy humor, then you’re right at home here. American Vandal does have some raunchy humor, but its tone is very well balanced between humor and seriousness. It’s a true-crime show first, with the humor coming second, and that’s a good thing here. Arguably the show’s biggest accomplishment is that I legitimately wondered throughout who was guilty, and was kept on my toes most of the show’s runtime. The last couple episodes have some pacing problems, which mostly come up when the show strays away from its main question of who is guilty of the crime.

Beyond the show’s refreshing true-crime format lies a different, yet accurate view of contemporary high school life. This might be one of the first depictions of high school where the actors are actually in their late teenage years, and it simply feels realer whenever they’re on screen. The show also offers an intriguing look at the way we view social media, with YouTube and Instagram being notable examples. I won’t spoil it for you, but the show takes a meta approach in the fifth episode, and it’s fun to see how the characters adjust to this turn.

Speaking of the characters, the acting here is great on all fronts, especially from YouTube star Jimmy Tatro. He’s perfect for the role, injecting Dylan with the perfect amount of douchebag-ness, while portraying him with an unexpected amount of heart as well. You have to think about it from Dylan’s perspective; at the show’s start, he’s been accused of a crime that he claims he didn’t commit, and his entire life is about to be ruined as a result of it. He just wants to prove to everyone that it wasn’t him.

The rest of the cast is great too, in the sense that we can never really know who to believe. Many characters have motives in this case, and it’s interesting to see how they react when questioned by Peter for the documentary, as well as the repercussions that their statements have.

When I first saw the trailer for American Vandal, I was in love. I had hoped that the show would be half as good as the trailer made it out to be, and it is. I sincerely hope that American Vandal blows up like Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why did, because, hot take alert, I think this show is better than both of them. The next time you’re on Netflix, and you’re struggling to find something to watch, give this show a chance. American Vandal is one of the best Netflix original shows on the streaming service, and it deserves your attention.

Best Episodes: “A Limp Alibi,” “Premature Theories,” “Hard Facts: Vandalism and Vulgarity”

American Vandal Season 1 is Recommended if You Like: Making a Murder, or any true crime-like shows, the Funny or Die brand, 13 Reasons Why but without all the sadness

Where to Watch: All episodes of the show are available for streaming on Netflix.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Graffitied Penises

For more of our full season TV reviews, click here!

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