There’s an art and a science behind crude commentary.
The first season of Netflix’s American Vandal was an unexpected delight. The trailer for the mockumentary showcased its amusing, sophomoric vulgarity, but the series revealed itself to be far more than that upon its release. If you’ve never seen it, well, what are you doing with your life? But in case you haven’t, Season 1 looks at the aftermath of a high school prank that left 27 faculty members’ cars vandalized, but instead of broken windows and smashed bumpers, the perpetrator drew penises on the vehicles.
Within hours of its release, #WhoDrewTheDicks was trending on Twitter, but it was soon accompanied by a thoughtful discussion of the show’s surprising depth in how it depicted high school as a constant struggle against peers’ expectations. Over eight episodes, the series proved to be achingly hilarious and unexpectedly sophisticated in its exploration of privacy, social networks, and the influence and pitfalls of the media. Not to get too Uncle Ben on you, but the power to shape a narrative comes with great responsibility, especially when those in power are pressured into supporting a general preconceived consensus. American Vandal began as a story about spray-painted penises, yes, but it’s also a stand-in for the court of public opinion on greater issues. It embraces the true crime wave currently sweeping television, satirizing it to provide some pretty important social commentary.
Season 2 must live up to fans’ high expectations, not to mention the fact that not everyone supported Netflix’s decision to continue the story (many thought American Vandal should conclude as a one-and-done triumph). But as we’ve seen before, Netflix won’t hesitate to capitalize on momentum, even if that means putting quality at risk (see: 13 Reasons Why Season 2).
This time around, creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda are doubling down on the crude humor. The new season is set at a Catholic high school. Junior Kevin McClain has been expelled and awaits trial for allegedly spiking the lunch room’s lemonade with a diarrhea-inducing concoction (the disaster was coined “The Brownout” ha!). Once again, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) arrive to investigate and answer the overarching question: Who is the Turd Burglar?
Believe it or not, but research has found that humor “produces psychological and physiological benefits that help students learn.” If film and television are just fancy sociology lessons with bigger budgets, and audiences the eager pupils, then is American Vandal really so different from BlacKkKlansman, Eighth Grade or any of the thoughtful and celebrated movies this year that have employed humor to convey a larger theme? Though its themes aren’t as serious as racism in America, they’re still potent and palpable. American Vandal’s execution of its mission last season was pretty flawless.
Based on the trailer, which came out yesterday, Season 2 looks like it will hit the high bar set by Season 1 and offer even more vulgar shit (pun intended). As hyperbolic and ridiculous as it may sound, when American Vandal asks #WhoDrewTheDicks and #WhoIsTheTurdBurglar, it’s also asking who we are as a collection of people and what values we ascribe to. Here’s hoping there are more lessons to be gleaned from all the crap.