TV critic Liam Gerrard assesses the second series of American Vandal to see if this unique mockumentary is still worth a watch
The second season of Netflix’s American Vandal sustains the satirical charm and whodunnit-mystery that made the first season of this mockumentary so binge-able, dialling back on laugh-out-loud lines, and replacing them with a superior plot, more emotionally complex characters, and a deeper examination of social imbalance within the United States and its criminal justice system.
After a successful first season that led to the acquittal of an everything-but-guilty class clown, adolescent filmmakers Peter and Sam are contacted to help vindicate social outcast Kevin, who recently confessed to the ‘Turd Burglar’ vandalism at an elite high school in Washington. Through a series of poop-orientated crimes using lemonade, a pinata, and t-shirt canons, the vandal continues to orchestrate mayhem amongst the faculty and students, pushing our protagonists, Peter and Sam, to unravel the conspiracy of the ‘Turd Burglar’.
Getting one thing out the way, this TV show is completely ridiculous, but it’s the completely ludicrous premise that makes American Vandal so unique. It’s a love letter to all the AV kids out there currently sitting in double Chemistry, praying that a tampered Bunsen burner will lead to a newsworthy catastrophe, and your subsequent investigative reporting will lead to respect from your peers, Netflix headquarters, and America. Everybody dreams their high-school as a prime-time drama, with oneself as the hero. American Vandal nails this feeling.
The format is justified and nuanced in poking fun at typical investigative documentaries, with Peter’s narration and re-enactments reminiscent of an ITV original on Raul Moat or something. The discovery of digital clues (i.e misplacing the grimace emoji for a smiley emoji) are mulled over and questioned like matching footprints at the scene of a murder; the obsessive focus on story threads like these sew together a layered and twisting plot that intensifies by the episode. However, where the first season splashes comedic dialogue every other minute to hold your engagement, season two prefers to prioritise the mystery in its new batch of students. Don’t get the wrong idea, when reflected on, the comedic value in the absurdity of the Turd Burglar chase is never lost, just more…streamlined.
Introducing us to a new cast of characters was a wise decision. With Peter and Sam now effectively investigators-for-hire, we have a premise that could span several seasons, and with a third confirmed, it’s clear this strategy is working. This helped create an emotional depth to the second series that was somewhat missing in the first. In season one, we felt bad for Dylan as he was effectively too dumb to articulate his arguments, and too boisterous to be taken seriously. In Chloe, waves of desperation and guilt become prevalent as episodes pass, as she believes its her duty to alleviate Kevin’s allegations, and to rekindle a lost friendship; lost because of Kevin’s social ineptness. Coupled with Demarcus’ final monologue, and the overall message of season two, there’s a few tear-jerking moments to appreciate. For a show that rests its focal point on half a school soiling their underwear, that’s impressive.
I’d recommend this show to anybody looking to fill their days with a hefty binge, with myself finishing both seasons in two days. Long story short, it’s going to a long wait for the next fix of American Vandal.