The best pop culture satires and parodies manage to combine a scathing critique of their target genre or conventions with a true enough adherence to those conventions that you actually end up scaring while you enjoy the critique. American Vandal is an excellent, note-perfect satire of true crime series like Making a Murderer that somehow manages to both mock the conventions of this now overdone genre while making you care about the resolution of the ridiculous plot. It is fantastic and you should watch it.
Mildest of SPOILERS
The series starts with an absolutely ridiculous premise that you might think won’t be strong enough to put a full 8 episodes on top of. And with the first few episodes, even, you might be thinking, well, I get it, but I’m really going to watch hours and hours of this? But the more complicated the mystery gets, the more absurd yet absorbing the series gets. (And the opening “crime” serves to punctuate the overly serious moments with crude humour, so that you’re allowed a break from the clever satire.)
It’s a remarkable balancing act, balancing the crude humour of the prank, the clever parody of the format and the dramedy moments when it walks a fine line between awkward comedy and actual dramatic moments. The series actually manages to raise concerns about access in this day and age and, though that is a bit of a cliche in this day and age, it feels a little more sincere coming from a fictional satire of the “follow every lead” style of independently produced “documentary” that has propped all over Netlix, podcasts and independent film, especially since Serial.
And the over-the-top metaness, which reaches it climax in the final episode, actually also works given the nature of our reality, when everyone has an opinion, everything is recorded, and everyone chronicles (records or writes) their reactions to everything.
Really, a pretty damn amazing show. I’m sorry to say there’s a second season, which is typical of TV short, near-perfect TV series. One Season Wonders, which are often fantastic, are often extended past their prime because of the lure of more money, but the second season is usually shit: The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, Broadchurch etc. I’m pretty sure the next season will be nowhere near as awesome. Ah well.