Warning: This post contains spoilers for the show “American Vandal”
No one thought that a show revolving around the question “Who drew the dicks?” would be any more than an immature mockumentary targeted at Jake Paul fans. Yet when “American Vandal” first premiered last year on Netflix, it was the sleeper hit of the fall, praised for its brilliant satire of the true crime documentary genre.
Under the premise of precocious high schoolers Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Eckland (Griffin Gluck) launching serious investigations into juvenile pranks, the show finds a perfect balance between compelling mystery and crafty humor.
While the first season followed Peter and Sam as they investigated the mysterious, spray-painted penises at their high school, the second season follows the filmmaking team to Bellevue, Washington, to investigate a mysterious online figure, the self-proclaimed “Turd Burglar” terrorizing St. Bernadine High School.
The second season of “American Vandal” ups the stakes with a series of sophomoric crimes the Turd Burglar claims responsibility for — starting with spiking the cafeteria’s lemonade with laxatives that lead to a literal mass shitstorm. After what was affectionately titled “The Brownout,” the Turd Burglar hit St. Bernadine’s three more times with excrement-related pranks, taunting their victims on an anonymous Instagram account.
With the higher stakes, however, there’s a lack of focus in the investigation. The first season centered its investigation on exonerating the accused Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), but the second season seems less concerned about proving outcast Kevin McClain’s (Travis Tope) innocence and more about pursuing various leads that are only touched upon in a single episode. Because of this odd pacing, there’s an uneven balance between Season 2’s main subjects — McClain and St. Bernadine basketball star DeMarcus Tillman (Melvin Gregg). Both have compelling character arcs, but their development is hastily rushed in the last few episodes.
While Tatro’s lovably idiotic Maxwell is missed, that hole is well-filled by Tillman and his gregarious “big man on campus” attitude. Not only is he affable, the show uses his character to touch on many hot-button topics, such as educational institutions’ preferential treatment of athletes, the hypocrisy of elite schools recruiting talented athletes from poorer neighborhoods and the dangers of creating a cult of personality.
The whole season could be focused on the scandals that involve Tillman, yet, because the show is preoccupied with solving the Turd Burglar crimes and also delving into McClain’s character, his engaging storyline is only grazed upon.
The show continues to smartly weave in very current popular culture to add to its meta-narrative, even addressing the first season being picked up by Netflix — thus adding the viewers into its storyworld. Despite the overly gratuitous shots of feces and defecation that emphasize the show’s juvenile undertones, the second season of “American Vandal” maintains its status as a surprisingly deep and brilliantly written satire, with the final episodes addressing pitfalls of the facade of social media.
Julie Lim covers television. Contact her at [email protected].