Comedy is a sketchy realm. The jokes of yesterday often end up being considered bigoted or xenophobic as the years progress. Racist jokes from the 20th century bring nothing but disgust. Sexist jokes from the 60s are now scoffed at with open disdain. Even gay jokes, which were in fashion a mere 10 years ago, are now taken with a grain of salt. But there is one type of humor that has been around since the days of the ancient Romans and shows no signs of reducing to anything less than a goldmine of hilarity: phallic humor.
This philosophy is put into practice in Netflix’s new original series, “American Vandal.” The mockumentary style, true-crime drama investigates one student’s expulsion and documents the extraneous circumstances surrounding the afternoon in which a truly horrific crime was committed. The crime in question was a malicious and horrid one: the vandalism of 27 teachers’ cars at a high school through the spray painting of phallic imagery.
It’s a commonly held consensus around the school that the perpetrator is one Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro).
As a result of this, and the fact that Maxwell is one of nine students with access to the school’s security feed (which was deleted), he dabbles in drawing phallic imagery and most damning of all, there is an eyewitness who saw him drawing sausages.
Despite all this, Maxwell refuses to admit he was responsible for the vandalism, claiming, among other arguments, that he is too dumb to commit such a complex crime, he was at his girlfriend’s house and that if he was responsible for it, he would take credit for it..
In an attempt to discover what truly happened at two o’clock on that fateful Tuesday, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) launch their own investigation in the format of a documentary in which they attempt to uncover all the facts.
The show is comprised entirely of footage Ecklund and Maldonado have recorded, and they serve as narrators throughout the story. As in typical true-crime shows, each episode has its predictable twists and painfully tense moments. Each of these twists and moments is so absurd and whimsical it’s impossible to not appreciate the show’s charm.
For example, one episode focuses entirely on determining whether or not the eyewitness to the crime is trustworthy. He claimed to have seen Dylan committing the crime, but doubt is cast upon his claim when the documentarists learn he also claimed to have partaken in sexual conduct with a girl who is considered to be several levels ahead of him on the hotness spectrum.
The entirety of the episode, an episode which was titled “A Limp Alibi,” is dedicated to finding the truth behind whether this alleged interaction was fact or fiction.
The extent of this investigation included driving out to the summer camp where the alleged act occurred, viewing the spot from multiple angles (in an attempt to find anyone who may have seen it) and even digitally recreating the scene in an attempt to find new vantage points where witnesses may have been.
“American Vandal” is a strange but intoxicating mix of the absurd and real, and its humor is perfect for those who are less than mature.
It wades through the uncanny valley of being so real it must be fake with ease, and captivates its audience with an intense plot filled with subtle jokes and satiric themes.
Through the humor and absurdity it presents, “American Vandal” leaves audiences with an interesting critique of the documentary genre’s tendency to exaggerate and perhaps muddle the truth in its attempt to create a more compelling story.
Many wall breaking scenes occur especially towards to end of the film, reflecting an oddly wise sentiment given that the premise is drawing sausages.