American Vandal: Season Two

American Vandal 2 poster

For many, social media is both a tool for communication and a means to cultivate one’s identity, which can prove either beneficial or detrimental to one’s social status. Teenagers are the most prolific users of this online platform, detailing every moment of their chaotic and tumultuous lives – they, better than any other demographic, know the power this medium wields, which is why they are best placed to explore the issues surrounding it.

One year after exonerating their classmate for an act he did not commit, amateur documentarians Peter Moldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) have been approached to investigate a series of crimes at another institution, this time St Bernadine Catholic High School in the state of Washington. The offences were committed by a so-called Turd Burglar, who claimed responsibility for lacing a lemonade dispenser with laxatives, filling a pinata with faecal matter and, finally, soiling a pep rally.

Local authorities believe the culprit was Kevin McClain (Travis Tope), a social outcast who sought vengeance against those who bullied and belittled him in the years prior. Although he has admitted guilt, Kevin’s friend Chloe (Taylor Dearden) believes that he is not responsible for any of the wrongdoings, and was coerced into a confession. Having seen Peter and Sam’s previous work, Chloe is hopeful that the pair can prove Kevin’s innocence and unveil the true identity of the Turd Burglar.

First released on Netflix in September of last year, American Vandal proved to be one of the biggest surprises of 2017, a shining example of how to do an effective parody. The series, which mirrors the approach of a true-crime documentary, chose not to be a never-ending sequence of low-brow gags and instead crafted a story which is not just funny, but also clever, intriguing and insightful. Happily, the second season is not one to betray this formula, preferring to stick to what made the first a winner.

The greatest difference between the two seasons of American Vandal is the crime being examined – a simple act of vandalism versus a set of vulgar felonies. Yet despite reducing itself to scatological humour, at no point does the show elicit disgust from the viewer, nor does the comedy prove tasteless. Much like last time, the majority of laughs are derived from the characters, who treat each and every situation with straight-faced sincerity, no matter how ludicrous it is.

Most amusing of all these characters is DeMarcus Tillman (Melvin Gregg), a St Bernadine pupil and promising basketballer who is one of the main suspects in Peter and Sam’s research. Being a prototypical jock, DeMarcus lacks the intellect of his fellow classmates, resulting in him having some brilliant lines; but he isn’t just here to be made light of, for his inclusion also provokes an important conversation about school life, and society as a whole.

American Vandal - Horton, Gregg
Peter (Tyler Alvarez) with DeMarcus (Melvin Gregg) and Lou (DeRon Horton) in American Vandal

American Vandal does not take kindly to the way schools value sport above all else. Throughout the season, it is noted how the basketballers at St Bernadine are considered “untouchable”, whereas other students are not given the same courtesies – it’s a view this author can sympathise with, having come from a high school where the accomplishments of its sports teams were proudly promoted by its principal, whilst the highly-talented music students were rarely mentioned.

Yet there is a more important message that goes beyond sport-related grievances, and it has much to do with this generation’s propensity for social media. Characters readily use the medium throughout the season – students document events via their online profiles; the Turd Burglar uses it to taunt the St Bernadine community; Peter and Sam collect what has been posted as evidence – which illustrates just how reliant society has become on the likes of YouTube and Instagram.

Because of this fact, American Vandal is not one to demonise social media, nor those who use it. Through Peter’s narration, the series states that having an online profile does have its benefits, giving people an outlet to be creative; the damage occurs when said outlet is used to put others down, as the Turd Burglar does. To see a show espouse the good that social media can do, rather than focusing on the negative connotations, is rare, refreshing and enlightening, even for a platform like Netflix.

American Vandal’s strengths don’t just lie in the writing, for it retains many of the positive attributes from its previous season, such as the faux-documentary approach – the characters are once again credited in the opening titles, Mr Baxter is still listed as an executive producer, and the actors record the occasional scene by themselves. Also continuing is the brilliant casting of characters, with relatively-unknown actors giving it their all as the newcomers, whilst Alvarez and Gluck lead the series convincingly.

Those who saw American Vandal as a one-time success, or are yet to be convinced by its excellence, will have those doubts erased after viewing its second season. Netflix has gifted the world with a satire like no other, supplementing comedy with thoughtful commentary and a gripping story. If only other parodies could be this smart.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s