Plot: An apparent prank has turned into a serious situation, with over one hundred thousand dollars in damages and possible legal charges involved. The parking lot of Hanover High School was vandalized and someone spraypainted giant penises all over the teachers’ cars, all twenty-seven of the vehicles. The evident was minimal, as the security camera footage vanished and that left the situation to be decided on less than reliable sources. Thanks to a late to arrive eye witness report, the blame was cast on Dylan (Jimmy Tarto), a stoner ne’er do well who had a history of drawing penises and pulling pranks. But Dylan swears he is innocent and while no one seems to believe him, one of his fellow students intends to uncover the truth. Peter (Tyler Alvarez) plans to make a documentary and explore every possible path to the answers, but is there is a conspiracy or the obvious suspect obvious for a reason?
Entertainment Value: The rise in true crime podcasts helped spawn a wealth of true crime documentaries and as with all trends, at a certain point, satire and parody was bound to surface. American Vandal does poke fun at the true crime genre, but does so with a masterful approach and maintains the illusion throughout. So this isn’t in the vein of The Naked Gun, but a pitch perfect send up nonetheless, as all of the true crime tropes and conventions are laid bare here. The tone is serious in most instances and the format is super tight, but the humor is ever present and even absurd at times, while keeping a straight face at the same time. The dedication to the true crime vibe is peerless, to the point if you didn’t know better, you could easily assume this was real at times, a real testament to the research and craftsmanship at work. This first season runs for eight episodes and much like the true crime documentaries it was inspired by, it keeps the tension high and the pace brisk. This is the kind of show you can burn through in one sitting and not even realize how much time has passed, which again, shows the skilled execution involved. If you’re a fan of true crime, you’ll get the most out of American Vandal, but anyone who appreciates quality television shows should find this one more than worthwhile.
The cast here is good and is able to pull off the serious vibe, while injecting ample humor, subtle and otherwise. Jimmy Tatro has the role at the center of the penis art controversy and is the most consistent source of humor, as he is such an oblivious and often clueless character. But he doesn’t seem like a made up person, just a dumb guy who doesn’t think before he acts or speaks, so even this over the top persona comes off as mostly believable here. Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck play our filmmakers and while a good portion of their involvement is in voice over and such, they’re still able to make us connect with the characters. The episode where the two investigate each other is one of the funnier episodes and it was nice to see them as more of an upfront presence, rather than just voices in the background. The cast also includes Calum Worthy, Caitlin Michael Riley, and Ryan O’Flanagan.
The Disc: As you’d expect from a show that went from debut to DVD in short order, American Vandal looks great and shows no visual issues whatsoever. I do think that fans who watched this on Netflix might notice a slight down tick from the HD presentation there, but the episodes still look terrific. The colors are bright, contrast is smooth, and the detail level ensures sharp, clear visual presence throughout. The extras include a point/counterpoint segment, extended interviews, and longer versions of some of the school board hearing sessions.