By Joyce Slaton,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Language, high school sex jokes in wry true-crime satire.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Satire is by nature positive, as it encourages viewers to think critically about what they see, hear. This show skewers conventions of true-crime shows, may help teens understand that there's a style such shows take on, which may make them wonder why. First season also evolved into a sly critique of social media and the way teens are portrayed cinematically, themes that continue and are amplified in the second season (and may spark interesting conversations with teens).
Positive Role Models
Main character Dylan is described repeatedly by schoolmates as an "idiot," a "f---ing idiot," a "burnout," a "loser." Even his girlfriend thinks he's too dumb to commit fraud -- and he agrees! However, other scenes show Dylan in a positive light, professing his deep love for his girlfriend, being honest even when it'll get him in trouble. Peter is on-screen less, but we see his intrepid reporting, hard work as he investigates the crime. In the show's second season, central figure Kevin is presented as a pretentious snot revealed to have ginned up a protective fake personality after being picked on at school.
Violence & Scariness
The "crime" in this true-crime show is a row of graffiti penises on teachers' cars in a high school parking lot. The untoward event the second season spotlights is messier: a "brownout" caused by laxative-spiked lemonade in the school cafeteria. Lo-fi visual representations of the event make them less gross, but we still see many students with brown smears and puddles around them.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
References to sex are frequent, sophomorically vulgar: images of spray-painted and drawn penises are shown frequently; a boy mimes having sex with a piñata; a boy claims he got a "hand job" from another high school girl; body parts (female) are ogled and discussed by male characters. A graphic joke involves "pooping" into someone else's body.
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Cursing and off-color language includes "s--t," "f--k" and "f---ing," "bitch," "damn," "d--ks" (said frequently and repeatedly), "butthole," "pooping," "boobs," "balls," "fart."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Dylan smokes a joint; his friends pass around a bong, inhale, cough. The friends seem spacey, and schoolmates call Dylan a "burnout" and a "loser."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that American Vandal is a comedy series that satirizes true-crime shows, social media, and the way teens use it. While most such shows are built around murders, the crime in this case is vandalism: penises are spray-painted on a row of teachers' cars (the second season focuses on school cafeteria lemonade spiked with laxatives). Graffiti'd penises (and fecal puddles) are shown over and over again and discussed at length, in silly ways, of course. There are other vulgar jokes, such as when a boy pretends to have sex with a piñata and another claims he was masturbated by a girl at school. A boy smokes a joint, and a group of his friends -- who are called "burnouts" by kids at school -- pass a bong around a living room, smoking and coughing. Cursing and off-color language includes "s--t," "f--k," "bitch," "damn," "d--ks" (said many times). Despite the language and vulgarity, this series is pretty sharp, sending up true-crime reportage by imitating it, and spoofing teens and their social media use by using digital trails as a potent investigatory aid. Parents may want to watch along with kids to point out what's being made fun of and why.
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What's the Story?
A heinous crime has rocked the quiet California high school of Hanover: Who stole into the parking lot and spray-painted a row of teachers' cars with phallic symbols, causing $100,000 worth of damage? AMERICAN VANDAL digs into whodunit. Was it high school senior Dylan (Jimmy Tatro), the ne'er-do-well known for drawing penises around the school, and who's already been expelled for the crime? Was it Alex Trimboli (Calum Worthy), the honor student who says he witnessed Dylan in the act? As Dylan's Hanover High Morning Show colleague Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) follows the case, the more he learns, the less he's sure of. In its second season, American Vandal's key sleuths Peter and Sam (Griffin Gluck) focus on a new school -- a private Catholic academy -- and take on a new misdemeanor (the "brownout" caused by laxative-spiked school cafeteria lemonade) and possibly unfairly accused miscreant, Kevin McClain (Travis Tope).
Is It Any Good?
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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about satire. What type of series is American Vandal making fun of? Would this show be as funny if it, like typical true-crime shows, centered on murder?
Why is it so difficult to figure out who committed crimes, both in this silly satire and in real life? What do you think about the process traditionally used to convict people?
- Premiere date: September 15, 2017
- Cast: Tyler Alvarez, Jimmy Tatro, Camille Ramsey, Karly Rothenberg
- Network: Netflix
- Genre: Comedy
- TV rating: NR
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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