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What we’re watching on Netflix: ‘American Vandal’

By Kaitlyn Bonomo

“American Vandal” nostalgically epitomizes modern American high school, backing painfully familiar memories to college students. As a Netflix crime mockumentary, the two seasons follow high school students in pursuit of a different “vandal,” venturing deep into high school drama and uncovering seriously funny scandals. 

The production style and intricate evidential analysis in “American Vandal” somewhat resembles a real-life documentary, maintaining a serious approach while shifting through ridiculous information. Authentic Snapchat and Instagram posts edited in the show add a genuine touch, which resonates with young people without being cringey.

“American Vandal” characterizes every type of person you would find in a high school with hilarious accuracies, like the “cool” teacher who still thinks they’re a student, stuck-up AP kids, star athletes and outcasts who are just misunderstood. 

Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) begin their investigation in the first season after a vulgar graffiti incident in the teachers parking lot of their high school. Dumbfounded, Hanover High was quick to expel notorious prankster and social reject, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro). 

‘American Vandal’ was nominated for an Emmy in outstanding writing for a limited series in 2018 (Netflix).

Dylan’s demands of innocence are not taken seriously given his history of lewd behavior and consistently being caught in lies. Being a dedicated filmmaker, Peter recruits unconventionally ambitious Sam to find the truth and potentially prove Dylan’s innocence. 

The brutal honesty and hysterical commentary from interview footage at Hanover High make it hard to believe it’s not a real high school. Dylan’s unfiltered personality is arguably the highlight of the first season, as he opens up as more than just the delinquent clown among his classmates. 

It was pretty unfortunate when the focus of the second season moved on from Hanover High and abandoned the eccentric characters we got to know from the school. The “Brownout” atrocity is the new focus, a true nightmare compared to the inappropriate prank in the first season.

Bringing representation to private school kids, Peter and Sam move their investigation to the pristine Saint Bernardine Catholic School in pursuit of finding out who put laxatives in the cafeteria lemonade.

There is really no other way to put it — much of the footage season two is absolutely disgusting, with detailed recordings of the “Turd Burglar” aftermath that spare no details. I do not recommend watching while eating. 

Saint Bernadine students are put through hell the entire season, so it’s hard to not feel bad instead of laughing along like with students at Hanover. The “Turd Burglar” was over the top compared to the first graffiti vandal, diverting from the laid-back humor that made the first season so great.

Kevin McClain (Travis Trope), who was taunted throughout elementary school, is the new main suspect of season two. Kevin and Dylan are both accused based on being the pariah of the school, yet are questionably trustworthy up until the very end as new evidence comes forth. 

None of the new characters in season two could quite top Dylan’s frivolous stoner attitude; it also got pretty cheesy with the “turd” focus and a horse-masked DJ group. The conclusion of season two still makes it worth the watch, with dramatic revelations throughout the entire last episode that really knocked the wind out of me.

Peter maintains an open mind as a producer of “American Vandal,” theorizing multiple angles and deeply investing viewers into solving each case. It takes a lot of self-control to not binge this in one sitting, as I did with each episode in the first season, which ends with a cliffhanger that leads you one step closer to the grand reveal. 

“American Vandal” remains surprisingly consistent with reality despite the outrageous nature of the crimes and testimonies unveiled. For a good laugh while remembering all of the reasons to love and hate high school, “American Vandal” is certainly a must-watch.


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