We need to talk about Netflix’ American Vandal. It’s the crime mockumentary that, in its first season, followed Hanover High’s ametuar documentarians Peter Maldanado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Eukland (Griffin Gluck) in their quest to exonerate local burnout Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) of the vandal charges for spray painting dicks onto 27 teacher’s cars. Under the radar, it rose into critical acclaim earning a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Peak satire, season one was a critique on crime documentaries and today’s high schoolers and of course—hilarious. With all that acclaim to live up to, many critics and fans alike were wondering how season two might live up to the success.
For the most part, it does live up to the reputation of season one. Season two, which premiered on September 14th, documents Peter and Sam as they take their crime solving skills to Bellevue, Washington to uncover the mystery “Turd Burglar,” a criminal who has fired a series of “number-two” related assaults at the town’s local Catholic high school, St. Bernadine.
In the first episode, which (in addition to the second episode) was paced too slow for quick engagement, the duo are called to Washington when they are informed by a fan of their first documentary that St. Bernadine’s outcast Kevin McClain (Travis Tope) has been (supposedly) wrongly convicted of the crimes. McClain is much different than last season’s accused delinquent. Unlike class-clown Dylan Maxwell, McClain is a golf-hat wearing social outcast with flashy vocabulary, an unpopular dubstep band and a taste for expensive foreign teas. He’s, to put it plainly, annoying. While he is a valid choice for the season’s main character, the show loses some of the humor of last season without a Dylan Maxwell (and maybe poop just isn’t as funny as dicks). Some of McClain’s shortcomings (the character’s inability to connect with the audience, for instance), are disguised by this season’s other star, Demarcus Tillman, St. Bernadine’s star athlete. Tillman (Melvin Gregg) provides the season’s most fulfilling and lively narrative, undergoing a journey of self-actualization while still providing the show with laughs.
However, what season two lacks in humor it makes up for in depth. Beneath the show’s ridiculous plot line is a serious underlying examination of the teen psyche and the effects of social media. This is present from the beginning of the series as Kevin McClain is introduced as the school’s “Fruit Ninja.” At school, students throw fruit at Kevin and Kevin is expected to karate chop the fruit, all of this taking place on camera. The students are likely making fun of Kevin, and the police who decide Kevin is the culprit use these videos as proof that Kevin was bullied, motivating him to put laxatives in the school’s lemonade (among other things). Shortly after, however, we see that Kevin enjoys being the Fruit Ninja because it allows him to be important to the school in some tangible way. Who are today’s teens? What do they do? What do they feel? How do they interact in the digital age? All of these questions are skillfully explored in this season of American Vandal.