“What if the motive is just… poop is funny?”
Poop is funny.
Late last year, Netflix demonstrated a surprising amount of good humored self-awareness when it released American Vandal, a parody of the recent rash of true crime murder documentaries, not least of all its own phenomenon Making a Murderer.
The show began as a pitch-perfect sendup of the genre, a tonally and stylistically flawless recreation transposed into a high school and investigating a wonderfully silly question: Who spray painted dicks on the cars in the teachers’ parking lot?
But the first episode, while brilliant, inspired another very justified question: Could this one joke support the show for an entire season?
The answer, it turned out, was yes, as the subsequent seven episodes spun out a remarkable meditation on the influence of outside scrutiny, both through the documentarian’s lens and the judgment of teachers, peers, and society at large. It also managed to present a genuinely engaging mystery in which the lives of filmmaker Peter Maldonado and suspect Dylan Maxwell (inimitably played by Jimmy Tatro) become embroiled. By the end, Dylan was more than a stoner goofball, Peter was more than an adolescent Sarah Koenig wannabe, and the question of who drew the dicks was both more and less important than ever.
What began as a hilarious but one-note joke became an astoundingly deep work of art.
Here’s hoping American Vandal can subvert expectations again, because the second season is nearly upon us. The release date is set for September 14, and the trailer just dropped on Tuesday. Here it is:
The news last October that American Vandal was being renewed was met, understandably, with some skepticism. I won’t go into specifics in case you haven’t seen it (you should, immediately), but the first season ends with a beautiful finality that gives its eight episode run a sense of completeness, that marks it as a contained story that’s been told from start to intended finish.
But it was also wildly popular and critically acclaimed, so here we are: Beautiful Contained Story Part Two.
The release of the trailer has actually assuaged a lot of my fears. The focus of the new season will be a Catholic school held at the mercy of an anonymous new criminal: The Turd Burglar. At first blush, it’s a great successor to the first season’s crime — a high school setting, a grotesque but funny human body-based crime, an alias only a teenager could be proud of. But of course since it’s a sequel, the stakes have been raised. The scene that plays out in the trailer is genuinely disgusting, and the victims aren’t a handful of teachers but an entire lunch period. One student’s voice saying “I look at my phone, and I got tagged in a video” hints that there will be at least some investigation of privacy in a time of instant and widespread oversharing.
All of this promises to be interesting. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about the comedic potential of a poop-based crime.
But what I’m really invested in is the role of the recurring characters, filmmakers Peter and Sam. “The response has been incredible,” Peter says partway through the trailer. “But with all this attention came a lot of pressure on what kind of a case to take on next.” Under his narration is a flash of the Netflix title screen of the show itself. In the American Vandal universe, evidently, Peter’s documentary was picked up by the streaming service and distributed just as it was to us.
Heck, maybe we’re in the American Vandal universe. Has anyone actually seen Jimmy Tatro in person?
The thing to remember is that American Vandal as created by the character Peter has had the same definitive ending and something like the same amount of exposure as the one we’ve seen. The demand placed on him for a follow-up season would be inherently different, but it would also probably be more overwhelming. The flashes of other dick-related crimes in the trailer imply a possible copycat element, a desire among the masses to become the Next Big Thing, the next Dylan Maxwell.
Which brings us to the near-perfect escalation of The Brown Out, this season’s laxative-induced atrocity. As I’ve said already, it checks all right the boxes for a follow-up. And as the trailer says of The Turd Burglar: “This guy wanted an audience.”
The potential is there, and I’d say it’s at least somewhat hinted, that The Turd Burglar has committed a crime engineered solely to draw the attention of the American Vandal filmmakers. And that potential has me very excited. Season one has already demonstrated a masterful blurring of the lines between the characters in front of and behind the camera. If the second can continue that trend while engaging deeply with issues of fame, obsession, and God knows what else, then I think it could be truly great.
Do I know for sure that this is where the new season is heading? No. I could be very off. I could be surprised and impressed by a completely different series of events, and if I am I’ll be all the happier for it. But based on the trailer, this is my best interpretation.
And based on my interpretation, I’m more excited for the new season than I’ve ever been.