Netflix does an excellent job of true crime, but no one could have predicted the streaming service’s magnificent first attempt at fake crime. American Vandal is an eight-part documentary-style true crime satire; it mimics the style of Making a Murderer and The Keepers but not a single word of it is true — and it’s amazing.
Here’s why it should be your next television binge.
It’s essential viewing if you love true crime — and if you don’t
American Vandal is a show you’ll start out of pure, likely mild curiosity. It’ll grab you within moments on verisimilitude alone — even if you’ve never seen a true crime doc, you know the beats, the music, the pacing of the genre, and you can immediately recognize that Vandal‘s creative team has an expert handle on all of it.
Because it’s not a mockumentary, American Vandal keeps a straight face while investigating the hilarious crime at its center. The investigators do an intensely serious analysis of ball hair drawings. They run a ballistics test with a can of expired spray paint. Crucially, they pore over the evidence, a lot of which comes from archived Snapchat and Instagram posts, zoomed in and enhanced to piece together events. It’s compelling, and it’s smart as hell; if you’ve been out of high school for even a few years, it looks pretty different now, and the team behind Vandal knows that.
Even after several episodes, it’s easy to get sucked into the crime narrative and its twists and turns — only to remember, somewhat sheepishly, that none of it is real.
The brilliant cast
American Vandal presents an unexpectedly realistic version of American high school. If you find yourself thinking that Sam (Griffin Gluck) looks young, it’s because he’s an actual 16-year-old (with impeccable comedic timing, to be clear). Gluck and Tyler Alvarez are among the youngest cast members and do most of the heavy lifting.
Because it’s an open case, everyone is a suspect, from key suspect Dylan (Jimmy Tatro) to the teachers to the filmmakers themselves. Peripheral players and eyewitnesses get their own detailed backstories throughout the series, and you never tire of getting to know the kids of Hanover High.
It’s only eight episodes
A case of high school penis graffiti doesn’t warrant eight (half-hour) episodes of investigation, but American Vandal earns them. The documentary team closely examines every piece of evidence, every possible suspect, every potential outcome. One episode times the crime like Sarah Koenig driving to Best Buy for Serial, while tying in some penile math a lá Silicon Valley. It’s better than it has any right to be and the four to five hours of show fly by.
American Vandal‘s commitment to farce, talented cast, and skillful writing result in a richly imagined world full of people who feel more real than your own former classmates (sorry not sorry). It’s simultaneously thought-provoking and carefree, and it deserves to be at the top of your binge list.