In recent years, the true crime genre of storytelling has been gaining some serious traction. 2015 saw The Jinx premiere on HBO, with viewers following the story of alleged murderer Robert Durst over the course of six episodes. Later that year, Making a Murderer was released on Netflix, giving an audience eager for another case to analyze the chance to binge-watch a retelling of the wrongfully convicted Steven Avery. I never actually got a chance to watch either show—I tried “Making a Murderer” on for size, but I just couldn’t get into it—but I am a huge fan of true crime. I’m also a huge fan of “The Office”, which is why, fresh off my third rewatch of it, I found myself binging “American Vandal,” one of Netflix’s newest original series, and the perfect blend of true crime and mockumentary.
“American Vandal” focuses on a high school prank gone way too far, and the student who believes he was wrongfully accused of it. Jimmy Tatro (who actually visited SRU back in 2014) plays Dylan Maxwell, a senior considered an idiot and a ‘burnout loser’ by his peers. When Dylan is expelled for spray-painting obscene anatomy (the specifics of which I’ll leave up to your imagination) on 27 Hanover High teachers’ cars, sophomore and amateur documentarian Peter Maldonado, refusing to take the case at face value, sets out on a mission to uncover the real perpetrator.
Okay, sure, the entire show revolves around a prank that only a middle-schooler would find funny, but American Vandal is actually incredibly smart. With the events of the story unfolding over a few months in early 2016, the showrunners took advantage of the time period, and it really paid off. The show incorporates social media platforms such as Snapchat (on which students took pictures and videos of the vandalism), Instagram, YouTube (where Dylan and his friends post prank videos regularly), Reddit, Buzzfeed and Twitch (Dylan’s girlfriend Mackenzie is a popular streamer). This, combined with the sharp dialogue (“You lied to me.” “Whatever, dude, I lie about all kinds of little stuff. Like…that I understood Inception”), made the show feel super realistic and relatable to me. I saw another fan say on Twitter that Vandal’s depiction of high school was even more believable than that of 13 Reasons Why.
And even though it satirizes the true crime documentary, Vandal never skimps on crucial storytelling elements such as character development, conflict, and narrative. I’m not kidding when I tell you that when I watched episode three in the library this past week, I was on the literal edge of my seat and actually biting my nails. The story takes so many twists and turns that you’ll find yourself concocting outlandish theories about every new character that’s introduced. Although I’m not familiar with The Jinx or Making a Murderer, I’m a big fan of Serial (strictly the first season, though; season two was trash), and Vandal reminded me a lot of this podcast several times. Just like Serial’s Sarah Koenig and Dana Chivvis, Peter and his friends exhausted themselves by recreating the school board’s estimated timeline of the crime. There’s also a voicemail that’s crucial to corroborating the defendant’s alibi but ultimately proves itself to be impossible to reproduce.
American Vandal is one of those things that I have to be vague about because even just one spoiler could ruin the entire show. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to be so good, but now it’s definitely one that I’ll end up re-watching. With only eight episodes in the season, this is one show you’ll be able to binge-watch whenever you’ve got some downtime—and I don’t think you’ll regret it.