I did not want to become a person obsessed with true crime. I did not want to fall into the trap of keeping myself up at night with stories that usually don't have answers, with shows that would give me a false sense of activism by watching injustice, rather than doing anything to stop it. But here I am. Serial was my gateway drug. I gave into peer pressure during an 8-hour drive and consumed the first season in one gulp.
This exposure opened the door to TV specials, to murder podcasts, to long conspiracy theory YouTube videos. I'd watch them in my kitchen, making dinner or baking brownies or doing something that was pretty much the antithesis of what I was listening to. I rapidly transformed into the stereotype that Netflix's new show American Vandal has nailed to a T — and now all other true crime shows are ruined for me.
But before we dive into that, let me point out that the show is a parody of true crime shows taken to the extreme. It's taken a ridiculous (and fictional) crime — someone spray painting penises on cars — and applied the same thorough reporting, language, and gravitas as a traditional true crime show. The joke, however, is on me, and any other viewer who finds themselves getting just as caught up in American Vandal as they did Making A Murderer or The Keepers, despite the wildly different subject matter.
I'm not sure if that's what American Vandal was trying to do, but it's not a dig on the show either way. The Netflix series is surprisingly clever, and is a breakout show for creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, whose previous work includes writing and directing various shorts for CollegeHumor and Honest Trailers. The funniest parts of the show occur in the subtle jokes that are easy to miss, but expertly delivered by a handful of very young actors you've never heard of, but are about to see everywhere. Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, and Camille Hyde, particularly, are so convincingly pubescent and awkward, yet natural and witty, that you won't believe you've spotted them in small parts in TV shows like Orange Is The New Black, About A Boy, and 2 Broke Girls.
I'll admit that in the beginning, I wasn't fully on board. How were they going to create eight episodes from such a relatively simple and stupid question? By following the exact same formula as shows that unpack real, more high-stakes crimes. It's a formula I didn't even know existed because I thought I was hooked by the subject matter, by my need for justice and to expose bias in the system. However, it turns out that you can get my brain addicted to anything if you ask a simple question that ends up fleshing out a larger narrative, that takes me down different paths that fill in the gaps of other theories but don't quite bring answers, that weaves through a four hour journey that ultimately leaves me somehow knowing less than when I started.
That's why watching this show has managed to ruin all other crime shows for me. It's the equivalent of a ride breaking down at a theme park: The lights turn on, the music stops, and you realize that the actual crime shows you're addicted to are nothing more than a few puppets on machines, programmed to do the same thing over and over again. If American Vandal can do it, so can anyone. But please, please, please watch it anyway.