American Vandal Season 1 available September 15 on Netflix.
Produced by comedy website Funny or Die, the Netflix series American Vandal initially seems like it would have just enough material for one of that site’s short videos: It’s a parody of true-crime documentary series, in which a high school student launches a serious effort to clear the name of a classmate expelled from school for vandalism. “Who drew the dicks?” is the show’s faux-haunting tagline, and it’s funny to see the tactics of popular Netflix shows like Making a Murderer and The Keepers applied to such an absurd, low-stakes crime. But is it funny enough to sustain an eight-episode series?
The answer, surprisingly, is mostly yes, and that’s a testament to the cleverness and skill of creators Tony Yacenda (who directs all eight episodes) and Dan Perrault, along with their talented cast of largely unknown young actors, who wholeheartedly commit to the ridiculous premise. This is a show that devotes a good 15 minutes to a painstaking forensic investigation of whether one teenager gave another teenager a hand job at summer camp. Yacenda and Perrault create such an unexpectedly engrossing mystery that the eventual muddled resolution is a bit underwhelming, and sometimes the jokes get lost in the intricate details. Over the course of eight episodes, the show develops an impressive range of believable teenage characters, and as silly as the story can be, it’s the grounded reality of the show’s world that makes it funny.