Netflix’s AMERICAN VANDAL finds another way to spin a juvenile topic into an engaging mystery. The mockumentary series that lampoons true crime series like MAKING A MURDERER and THE JINX returned last Friday. The sophomore season definitely captures the same spirit, irreverent humor, and engaging story of its first season. What’s interesting is how the series goes far darker this season, while still packing hilarity into every episode. AMERICAN VANDAL proves that it can tell gripping dark mysteries with the silliest, s***tiest crimes ever.
The second season, much like the first, deals with a crime of immense immaturity & property damage. AMERICAN VANDAL ventures to the world of rich prep schools, as Peter and Sam investigate a criminal called “The Turd Burglar.” While outcast Kevin McClain (Travis Tope) has confessed to the crime, there are discrepancies in the crimes and his story. Now, our two high school documentarians must uncover the truth behind the various poop crimes at St. Bernardine High School.
AMERICAN VANDAL does a fantastic job at taking its juvenile crimes seriously. Even with a plethora of poop-centric misdemeanors, the series commits to the bit. The series finds fantastic ways to spin a gripping narrative out of its goofball premise. Furthermore, the many twists along the way are infused with the same dedication to silly humor. From horse-headed electronic bands to hot janitors, AMERICAN VANDAL finds tons of childish jokes to take seriously. It’s this commitment to its juvenile set-up that makes the follow-through so rewarding.
However, while the series is a comedy, this season goes way darker in its subject matter. The Turd Burglar is less like Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) and more like the mastermind from SE7EN. Without spoiling the ending, this mystery’s take on social media bullying is especially harrowing. The series digs a lot into cyberbullying, the discrepancies of how athletes are treated, and how police can coerce confessions from suspects.
We get a lot of thoroughly interesting characters this season. AMERICAN VANDAL always excels with capturing the spirit of modern day high schoolers, and season two is no exception. It helps that the series is consistently cast with fantastic young actors. This season’s wrongfully (?) accused teenager is Kevin, played by Travis Tope. Tope brings an energy to the character like a young Jesse Eisenberg, which is perfect for the character. On the opposite side, you have Melvin Gregg, who shines as hotshot basketball player DeMarcus Tillman. AMERICAN VANDAL continues its fantastic track record with casting young actors.
However, as strong as our new cast is, the two main characters are really weak. Neither Peter (Tyler Alvarez) nor Sam (Griffin Gluck) are as involved this crime around. What made season one of AMERICAN VANDAL work was how the filmmakers were also characters. This season, the two boys feel so far removed from the case. That loss of a personal element for the protagonists feels like such a letdown. It’s a shame that the boys behind the camera are given so little to do.
While the returning characters are noticeably weaker, it’s hard to see any other failings of the season. Especially if you view AMERICAN VANDAL as more of an anthology – which seems like their intended new direction – it works fairly well. The series still maintains the same quality that made it a show to watch last year. It’s a unique show that rises above the childish parody that it could become. Season two proves that the show’s stellar premiere was no fluke. AMERICAN VANDAL proves it has a strong sense of self, and it’ll make you laugh at – and fear – the Turd Burglar.
STAND-OUT PERFORMANCES: Travis Tope, Melvin Gregg, Kiah Stern
STAND-OUT EPISODES: “#2,” “The Dump,” “Sh*t Storm” (yes these are actual episode titles)