American Vandal: A dickumentary

Peter Maldonaldo (Tyler Alvarez) considers the differences in penis drawings to exonerate an innocent man.
American Vandal
CREATORS: Tony Yacenda and Daniel Perrault
STARS: Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, and Jimmy Tatro
SCORE: ★★★★½

TV SERIES REVIEW
By DAMIEN NGUYEN

It’s hard not to love the satire and sheer faithfulness to documentary style that drives American Vandal.

The mockumentary, which draws inspiration from popular true-crime series, proves a brilliant way to binge-watch Netflix and experience the power of TV drama.

American Vandal derives its amusing moments from the sheer seriousness with which it treats its subject matter: penis drawings.

The plot is outrageous yet intriguing. A known phallic artist and prankster, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) has been accused of drawing penises on 27 teachers’ cars at Hanover High School. Maxwell’s subsequent expulsion leads to an investigation by Peter Maldonaldo (Tyler Alvarez), a sophomore student who takes on the role of journalist,  creating a web series around his discoveries and theories.

As the guide for the entire series, Peter is the consummate professional journalist. His voiceovers, commentaries and frustrations all perfectly sync with audience speculation as he goes through the evidence and timeline of the crimes. It is through Peter’s eyes that we get to review all of the facts objectively and feel excitement as the mystery begins to unveil more and more suspects.

The vandal’s artwork is a common sight in Hanover.

Tatro, as the titular “vandal”, plays the prankster to near-dumb perfection, with just enough characterisation to make him both sympathetic and eventually understandable.

Even the side characters that populate the series prove their worth, with memorable and distinct performances that sometimes start off as clichés, but gain substance with subsequent character development.   

However, it is the mystery of the “crime” that grips the audience and provides the basis for excellent cinematography. Each theory that arises from the mystery is accompanied by a satirical graphic that illustrates the evidence, and interspersed between interview footage are scenic slow camera pans across Hanover.

The camera work, angling and overall composition allow the viewer to see how this scandal really rocks the community, despite the sheer idiocy of the prank. 

Moody music backs these atmospheric shots, much like David Fincher’s work with Trent Reznor (The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl), building tension and suspicions, echoing the effect most “true-crime” documentaries would have if you were watching a proper one.

If there is a drawback to the four hours of investigative TV, it would be that the conclusion lacks panache. But the deeper reflections on the consequences the investigation had on the community of Hanover High ties up a lot of questions well, and it only takes a little more digging to truly find the end to the mystery. 

This is a brilliant homage to crime investigation stories and a worthy tip of the hat to those whose job it is to just dig a bit more under the surface.