Netflix's "American Vandal" is unlike any true-crime show you've ever seen — and that's why it's great
Netflix’s latest true-crime documentary series, American Vandal, is very unlike its predecessors (think Making a Murderer and The Keepers.) That’s because American Vandal is a true-crime satire that centers on a documentarian, Peter (Tyler Alvarez), who’s determined to find out whether an accused vandal, Dylan (Jimmy Tatro), really spray painted phallic imagery onto 27 cars at the local high school.
YOU READ THAT RIGHT.
So, how did American Vandal come about? For one thing, co-creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault have a history with documentary parody. “We did a series of [30 for 30-like] documentaries,” Yacenda explained to HelloGiggles at the show’s recent Los Angeles premiere. “We did Space Jam. They were very serious. We just adore documentary in general.”
They soon realized they had a shared love of true crime, some favorites being Making a Murderer, Serial, and The Jinx. And were determined to do something with the genre.
He added, “We just wanted to take it as seriously as possible so you’re into the mystery and you’re trying to figure it out yourself.”
The show does just that, and uses tropes from the genre in a very effective way.
Showrunner Dan Lagana echoed that Koenig was a big influence. “I think Sarah Koenig is a genius and to have that voiceover, that narrator, that storyteller walking you through this — in the most compelling way possible, feeling like you’re on that journey with her, which she does so brilliantly — that was an important thing that I thought we needed to instill in this.”
He continued, “We took so many passes at the voiceover to make sure that Tyler Alvarez felt like the high school equivalent of Sarah Koenig. Maybe not as smart as he thinks he is, but trying that hard. And your heart goes out to him as he does it because you can feel how excited he is to tell the story — just like Sarah is in Serial.”
The authenticity of its characters and setting certainly helps create a convincing satire.
These kids truly feel like people you knew in high school. “We wanted to make a story that was deeper than just a dick joke, so we wanted to have well-rounded characters,” Perrault said, then turning to the setting. “But on a comedy level, high school is such an ideal setting for us and if you think about it, our whole theory in comedy, we’re talking about very, silly stuff and treating it very seriously, especially with this show.”
All things considered, American Vandal really does feel like a true-crime show.
You’re desperate to know if Dylan committed the crime, while still appreciating the humor of this extraordinary situation. But while on the subject of origins, one has to wonder: Out of all the hilarious routes you could take a true-crime parody, why…phallic graffiti?
Season 1, eh? The show only just debuted on Netflix, but could a Season 2 already be in the works?
Which is to say that the creative team would have a ton of new material to work with. In fact, they’re already keeping Amanda Knox, The Thin Blue Line, S-Town, and Serial Season 2 in mind.
We’ll wait with baited breath for word about more American Vandal, and in the meantime, we’ll watching, finishing, and (in all likelihood) re-watching the show — now on Netflix.