Clever, deadpan, and instantly quotable, this mockumentary pries some knowing laughter from a genre that typically takes itself very seriously: true crime. American Vandal starts in on the ironic imitation right in the credits, with (school paper!) headlines about the graffiti crime dissolving into grimly lit photos of the crime scene and portentous yearbook photos. There are talking-head interviews and close-ups of ominous-looking official paperwork; there are cork boards with string connecting photos and clues. And there is always the fact that the crime in question is a row of spray-painted penises.
Dylan, too, makes an appealing lead, his oafishness lightened a bit by scenes in which he talks about how much he loves his girlfriend and how disappointed he is that his life-goal plans (going to college with his girlfriend, opening up a surf shop) are disrupted by his expulsion. Before long, the boy we hear repeatedly described as a "f---ing idiot" and "the stupidest kid I ever met" emerges as something of a henpecked hero: He might have spray-painted the penises, because it's a laugh. But he didn't. And so we, along with Dylan, and Peter, and everyone else, slowly pick through the clues to find out who did. And why. Or maybe not. Because what does it matter what the answer is, when the search for it is so much fun? Update: In the show's second season, Peter and Sam investigate a new, more bodily function-related crime at a different school after the mockumentary the duo supposedly made in the first season became a viral sensation. This adds another layer of satire and complexity to the surprisingly clever comedy, which makes plenty of points about gossip, digital life, the reputation you make for yourself -- and the one that others pin on you.