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‘American Vandal’ Season 2: The Show Grows Up and Will Crack You Up

Season Two Review

Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) have a whole new case in Season Two of "American Vandal" on Netflix.
Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) have a whole new case in Season Two of "American Vandal" on Netflix. By Courtesy of Netflix
By Nihal Raman, Contributing Writer

The second season of “American Vandal” ends with the proclamation that, in an era defined by digital appearance, “We’re all full of shit.” The show takes that statement literally, as the Netflix Original  mockumentary centers on the case of the “Turd Burglar,” a mysterious villain who commits a series of feces-based crimes. Student investigators Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) take on their second case, which takes place in the prestigious St. Bernardine School, a high school in Bellevue, Washington.

The first season of “Vandal” was a thinly-veiled satire of the true crime format, with Peter and Sam trying to discern which one of their classmates spray-painted a number of penises on the faculty’s cars in the school parking lot. While the second season maintains the absurd satire of its predecessor, it surpasses it in its themes, namely in its evaluation of class, justice, and social media and the roles they play in high school life. Still, “American Vandal” manages to look at these themes in an incredibly funny way. In fact, the show’s strongest moments are when it steps back from the plot and lets its viewers contemplate what’s actually happening in the story.

In the seventh episode of the season, “Shit Storm,” Peter and Sam find themselves in a tense interview with a local convenience store owner. While the belligerent owner evades their questions, Sam puts on a hat and poses for the camera. The moment draws attention towards the absurdity of the situation. It makes the viewer remember that these seemingly serious investigators are just kids who heard about the existence of someone who goes by “The Turd Burglar.” While they and everyone around them regards the case as a purely serious matter, the moment hints at the ridiculousness of the situation that Peter and Sam are in. These somewhat subtle yet frequent abstractions from the plot characterize the show’s comedic style: The show immerses its viewers in a frivolous plot before hilariously pulling them out of it.

Beyond its jokes, “American Vandal” tries to critique modern culture. Some of these analyses, particularly socioeconomic class, shine through quite clearly. Basketball star DeMarcus Tillman (Melvin Gregg) holds two nuanced roles in the St. Bernardine community: He’s both a campus celebrity and a student who comes from a far less affluent background than most of St. Bernardine. While DeMarcus is probably the funniest character in “American Vandal,” his progression as a character throughout the season is the show at its most thoughtful.

The second episode of the season, simply called “#2,” also makes a clear statement about the flaws in the American criminal justice system. In the episode, Peter and Sam analyze a police interview of a Kevin McClain (Travis Tope), a Turd Burglar suspect whose confession does not seem quite right. The episode begins by presenting statistics on the surprisingly large number (25% of the 1,532 overturned homicide convictions between 1989 and 2015) of wrongly convicted murderers who previously confessed to their crimes. The episode goes on to take a strong stance against police coercion, showing how Kevin crumbled when put under pressure.

Although “American Vandal” does succeed in some of its commentaries, the fact that it brings up slightly different themes in each episode leaves the show struggling to solidify some of those ideas. In particular, the show’s take on social media, which features prominently in the final moments of the season, feels somewhat disconnected from the rest of the show. While social media does play a significant role in the plot of “American Vandal,” the show jumps between themes so much throughout the season that it feels relatively unsupported. The first season of “American Vandal” lacked the poignance of the second season, yet it seems that the second season sometimes tries too hard to be poignant, feeling discontinuous instead.

Still, “American Vandal” first and foremost sets out to be a comedy. In this regard, it is extremely successful. The show is amusing and contains a well-thought-out plot that draws viewers in before making clear how absurd its situations are. This element of the show gives rise to some of its funniest moments. Moreover, “American Vandal” often succeeds in pointing out certain themes of class, criminal justice, and social media, though, with the latter in particular, these themes occasionally feel less fleshed out than they could have been. Nevertheless, the second season of “American Vandal” will leave its viewers thinking, “Shit, that’s funny.”

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