With this second season, American Vandal has officially become one-sitting viewing television. You sit down, and you don’t get back up until you’ve finished it. Few shows attain this ranking, (The Jinx, Making a Murderer, you see where I’m going with this) because it sort of requires the ability to binge it. Seasons of older shows have benefited from it, I don’t remember doing anything else when I watched season 4 of Breaking Bad. There’s a certain aspect of great true crime series that set themselves apart from other genres of TV where you feel glued to your TV in suspense and conspiracy. It’s no coincidence that many true crime series are one-sitting viewing. American Vandal captures that thrill so genuinely, all the while being hilarious. Season 2 is a serious mark of growth for the sure, finding a way to be just as hilarious while also heartwrenchingly emotional and thoughtfully tender. It’s an incredible, exhilarating seasons of television.
If season one was a sendup of Making a Murderer, then season 2 is a take on The Keepers as Peter and Sam confront a cover-up by a religious institution. After the success of their first season, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) are searching for their next investigation to keep up their momentum. They are sent a video by a student at St. Bernadine High School, a Catholic school that has top ranked basketball program, about attacks on the student body and staff by a serial vandal who goes by the name “The Turd Burglar”. The Turd Burglar put laxatives in the lemonade, causing everyone to uncontrollably shit themselves all over the school grounds during lunch in a fiasco known as “The Brownout”, then a week or so later put shit in a piñata so it would fling all over the classroom when broken open, then put cat shit in t-shirt cannons to dust crop the students during a spirit rally. The police and the school have their kid, outsider Kevin McClain (Travis Tope), who they got a confession out of but who now claims he’s innocent. Thus begins the intrigue as Peter and Sam uncover a conspiracy of twists and turns in their search for the true identity of the Turd Burglar.
This season does for poop jokes what season one did for dick jokes – they have weight, intrigue and an almost poetic nature while still remaining hilariously juvenile. At one point Peter and Sam consider that maybe the motive of the Turd Burglar is simple, in a hilarious exchange where Peter posits “Maybe he’s doing it because he thinks poop is funny.” Sam replies confidently “Poop is funny.” He’s right, poop is funny. Just like dicks are always hilarious, poop is always funny too. The humor isn’t just centered around feces though. When one character finds out she’s been taken advantage of unbeknownst to herself, her only question is simple – “What the fuck is a Turd Burglar?” This scene is huge and revealing for Peter, Sam and all of us watching, but this is somebody who has no idea what we’ve been watching. It’s a hilarious juxtaposition. There’s also some stellar Kurt Vonnegut humor for what it’s worth. You’ll see what I mean.
This season retains the true crime sensibility of the first season where, even though this is hilarious and stupid, you’re also really wrapped up in the mystery of it all, anxiously awaiting the truth of the conspiracy. At one point you’re wrapped up, glued to your screen, as you watch Peter and Sam debate whether or not a student forcibly shat themselves during the brownout as a cover. A show about dicks and poop shouldn’t be this gripping, but it is. It truly is. The twists and turns it takes are truly eye-popping and exhilarating, I was caught off guard several times. Whenever I thought we were onto the truth, I was shown that I was a fool as it weaved another direction.
The show moves at a leaner pace since it has the benefit of not having to set up who Peter and Sam are and how they are involved. Sadly, this means some great side characters from season one do not appear. Ming is only mentioned by name in the opening credits. This is the Peter and Sam show. Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck continue to be a winning duo as they play off each other. The rest of the cast is equally able. I’ve always admired that the teens in this show actually look, feel and act like teens. There is an authenticity to each character that avoids stereotypes even when rooted in them. For example, the best character this season belongs to DeMarcus Tillman (Melvin Gregg), a top ranked basketball prospect already hyped to be one of the top NBA draft picks in a few years. It’s difficult to explain why Gregg does such a great job without getting into spoiler details, but he just feels so authentic as to what it’s like to be a young and talented modern athlete. All eyes are on you. Everything you do is regimented and watched closely and dissected. It’s hard to have an authentic relationship when everyone around you sees you as your meal ticket. Without even trying too hard, Gregg communicates this pressure and isolation under a facade of popularity and positivity in each interaction he has. This season also has two of the best side characters in Bible Kid and Hot Janitor. I was busting up at any scene they had. You’ll see what I mean, just trust me.
This next paragraph is slightly spoiler territory.
One thing that this season didn’t do that the first did really well was investigate Peter’s culpability in all the fallout. In season 1 he’s confronted and forced to realize that he messed with a lot of people’s lives in a questionable pursuit. When “The Dump” happens, the show doesn’t bring up the fact that Peter is at least partially if not wholly responsible for it. If he doesn’t message the Turd Burglar addressing them by their real identity, does the Turd Burglar panic and enact the fateful event that airs the dirty laundry of multiple people all over the internet for the world to see? It’s just a bit disappointing that the show doesn’t even seem to consider Peter’s part in all of this when the fact it did it in season one was such a plus for it.
Spoiler territory over.
What stuck with me this season though, as it did in the first, was how emotional and poignant it became. For all the poop humor, it’s a remarkably heartfelt and tender 8 episode experience. We all wear masks and put up a positive appearance on social media, we all seek clout to verify and validate our lives. It’s a strange experience to grow up and live in this day and age, where we’re constantly recording, documenting and authoring our lives for others to see. American Vandal never passes judgement or sneers at this type of life, it simply understands the reality of it all. American Vandal captures the modern teen experience in a way that moves past stereotypes and generalizations of “these damn millenials” into something that feels authentic and empathetic, something that we can all connect to despite our differences. Peter sums it all up more beautifully than I ever could, with “We’re not the worst generation, we’re just the most exposed. We live in a constant state of feedback, and judgement.” I might still just be off the high of it, but this might be one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen. That is, until season 3 dreams up a new conspiracy fueled by juvenile humor. At the very least, I’m confident in naming it the best Netflix show – it rewards binge viewing, requires one-sitting viewing, and is as emotional as it is hilarious.