When American Vandal debuted last fall, its particular novelty—taking the popular true crime format and turning it into a good six hours of satire—inspired significant public praise. The original Netflix program focused its faux-Serial lens on an elongated dick joke, which would’ve felt revelatory if it weren’t so darn predictable. It was, however, funny. In the case of American Vandal, genre hybridity (crime and comedy) was camouflage for innovation, with room to grow. Season 2 reflects that growth. The series is sharper, more involved, and certainly more clever, while unlikely to inspire as many belly laughs as its debut season.
That’s fine, because its solid execution manages to make periodical poop attacks on a private school seem plausible, at times providing the same adrenaline rush as that of a serious psychological thriller through layered narrative and depictions of realistic social media use.
Unlike the “who did the dicks?” plot that permeated Season 1, this season is all about shit. Documentarians Peter Maldonaldo (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) travel to Bellevue, Washington—an affluent Seattle suburb—to investigate the crimes of the Turd Burglar, an anonymous villain who terrorizes the school in a massive laxative poisoning dubbed “The Brown Out” by students. It’s gross, as illustrated in considerable detail in the official trailer for the season (if the appearance of fake shit makes you queasy, it is perhaps best that you sit this one out), and the deeds are chronicled on the Turd Burglar’s Instagram, giving the felony a haunting modernity.
The Turd Burglar hides behind a masked poop emoji and hints at his crimes by sharing footage of his victims and tormenting them with the promise of future attacks. All of this is important to consider through the season’s eight episodes, as Instagram serves as both documentation for additional poop crimes and intentional diversions for the viewer, as if watching a well-made episode of Unsolved Mysteries or the 2018 comedy Game Night—predicting what’s to come is close to impossible as the story develops.
We’re not just given all the cards in the first 30 minutes and asked to follow along, as was the case in American Vandal’s debut season. This time, they’ve allowed us to investigate alongside our teen reporters, and it’s a clever way to suspend belief and convince us of sinister behaviors. (I’d say there are only a few moments where this is not the case, most notably when Peter and Sam fail to verify the alibi of a perspective suspect. But then again, this is humor and they are children.) The students and faculty refer to the poop crimes as “traumatic,” and yet there’s no discussion or real consequence around that, which is perhaps a missed opportunity for the series to transform humiliation into humor or, more sincerely, healing.
Like the first season, this parodic documentary—the serene Pacific-Northwest, the attacks themselves, and the “experts” offering investigative and psychological guidance—is shot beautifully. Fluid, purposeful cuts force the viewer to search for easter eggs on screen. And because of that, as the season progresses, so does our impulse to learn who did it; it’s a rush similar to that of a criminal non-fiction work.
But here’s the thing—though American Vandal’s second season is notably dynamic, a rollercoaster throughout, it’s still a show about shit, teens, and revenge. As with Season 1, the students approach these juvenile antics with the seriousness of a procedural. That is inherently humorous territory, and perhaps the biggest joke of all is that they’ll successfully make people feel invested in what is truly just amplified bullshit high school behaviors. It’s manipulative genius, parody without comedy, and I’d watch it again.
American Vandal Season 2 is available to stream on Netflix, as of September 14.