‘American Vandal’ Satirizes Documentaries

'American Vandal' Satirizes Documentaries

Rayner Reinhardt, Staff

The Netflix mockumentary series American Vandal follows an aspiring sophomore documentarian as he investigates the latest crime at Hanover High: 27 spray-painted phallic symbols mysteriously appeared on 27 different cars in the teacher’s parking lot. The subject of the video, and “known dick-drawer,” Dylan Maxwell is the main suspect. Documentarian Pete Maldonado questions suspected witnesses, faculty members, and Dylan himself, only to uncover stories of absurd hookups, high school parties, and unexpected teacher coverups.  

Over eight episodes, Pete looks into the only 9 people who’d have access to deleting the security footage, which includes himself and his best friend/documentary partner, Sam Ecklund, all to answer the prevalent question: who drew the dicks? 

The creative, satirical way in which the mockumentary is displayed is excellent. The frequent sexual jokes make the show easy to enjoy, while also staying topic-relevant. Dylan Maxwell represents the stereotypical class clown: funny, lazy, maybe a little rebellious, and of course, a dick drawer. The show focuses heavily on Maxwell’s tendency to draw male genitalia during school to give everyone a laugh; considering the crime, this is one reason why he’s the main suspect. In this aspect, the show is lighthearted and comical, but the story is much deeper than that. 

American Vandal works to display the underlying drama and reality of the high school experience. Relationships are scrutinized or exposed. Stereotypes define people: Dylan as a criminal, or preppy class president Christa Carlyle as the role model. We even see the conflict of the administration trying to suppress the documentary, because of disruptions it may be causing, or information that the school doesn’t want uncovered. The show reminds us of the importance of investigating, and the reality of high school drama.  

Besides the plot, the show’s presentation is captivating. It perfectly mocks a real documentary, for example, Making a Murderer. The theme sequence, made of dramatic scenes and thrilling music, combined with the documentary-esque interviews makes the dick drawing seem like a real-life crime. The camera work is very typical of a documentary, and the producers did a good job of making you question, “wait, is this real?” 

Lastly, the acting. The acting itself was very good. Each character played their role well—the underlying motives of each character was presented fully and allowed for me to make my own suspicions about who drew the dicks. However, the characters played greatly into high school stereotypes: the film geek, the lazy rebel, the preppy class president. Although the stereotypes were defining, what unfolds during Pete’s investigations contradict the labels that people are given. It makes you question if everything that high schoolers assume about each other is true, and this was part of the deeper message that American Vandal wanted to portray.  

Overall, I’d highly recommend the Netflix mockumentary. If you’re looking for a captivating, comical drama, then use your upcoming weekend to indulge in American Vandal, and decide for yourself: who, in fact, drew the dicks?