Instructions for an intense and immediate experience of deja vu: Turn on the first episode of Making a Murderer Part 2. Scrub past the recap and the credits, and stop at the opening montage, which situates this second season as the necessary follow-up to a veritable pop culture phenomenon. Watch news anchors from across the country describe the Making a Murder fascination that transfixed the country in December 2015. See Ken Kratz scroll through his emails received in response to the show. Look at the Netflix logo splattered across multiple newscasts. And think: "I've seen this show before."
That's because you sort of have. The opening sequence of the second season of American Vandal, which premiered in August of this year, follows the beats of this Making a Murderer Part 2 montage with uncanny precision. When American Vandal premiered in September 2017, it was meant to be a on-the-nose parody of true crime sensations like Making a Murderer and Serial. Instead of delving into a murky murder case, though, American Vandal investigated who drew penises on cars in the parking lot. As these opening credits show, the high-school student seems to have outpaced its controversy-riddled master by predicting, exactly, how Making a Murderer Part 2 would start.
In a meta move, the second season of American Vandal begins with an explanation of how the show even got on Netflix. As Peter Maldonado (played by Tyler Alvarez) explains in voice-over, he and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) created their documentary American Vandal to reopen the case that got high school senior Dylan Maxwell expelled, just as Making a Murderer was created to reopen the case of Brendan Dassey and Steven Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2005. In this parallel universe, American Vandal became extremely popular after Maldonado and Ecklund uploaded the series to Vimeo. Then, a (fake) Netflix producer named Kathleen DeFontes emails Maldonado with a life-altering message: Netflix would like the acquire the distribution rights to the show and inject some production value. Naturally, some bloggers groaned at the loss of the gritty quality of the Vimeo original (the highlighted writer also has a review of Stranger Things season 2 on her blog's sidebar).
The real similarities between the two montages begin after American Vandal hits Netflix and sets off a culture storm like the one recapped in the beginning of Making a Murderer Part 2. When the high-school documentarians visit The Daily Show, a cheeky Trevor Noah semi-seriously says, "The biggest issue facing this country right now: Who drew the dicks?" This sentiment is echoed by a (very real) Matt Lauer on The Today Show, who says with some astonishment, "I didn't even hear about this until about a week ago. Now everybody's talking about it."
The similarities of the two shows — particularly the credits — did not go unnoticed.
The opening montages in season 2 of Making a Murderer and season 2 of the true crime parody American Vandal are basically the same humblebrag about the successes of the show. Make of that what you will.— Eliana Dockterman (@edockterman) October 19, 2018
If you said these opening montages were an elaborate PR stunt designed designed by Netflix, I'd almost believe you. In both montages, Netflix is positioned as the silent hero of the story. "Since season 1 was released on Netflix, the response has been incredible. It put us on the national stage in a way we could've ever anticipated," Maldonado says. The montage of Making a Murderer Part 2 effectively says the same thing: Netflix's wide-reaching platform is what made the Making a Murder effect possible. Of course, this isn't a brag — it's just a fact. But when it's woven into the opening montage, it seems like a brag. "Look at our culture-shifting power! Look at our might!," it seems like Netflix is saying.
All conspiracies about Netflix's self-serving intentions aside, the montages got it right: Netflix's streaming model allowed for these shows to gain incredible traction with audiences at precisely the right moment. In 2015, Netflix contributed a staple to the nationwide true crime fever with Making a Murderer. Then, in December 2017, the streaming giant delivered the antidote: American Vandal, a show lapped up by people who had grown tired of the heaviness of true crime, the predictability of its format, through overexposure. In its own universe, American Vandal is a true-crime successor to Making a Murderer; in our universe, it's Making a Murderer's punk younger cousin, giggling at its older relative's self-seriousness at the family barbecue.
By 2018, American Vandal fine-tuned its premise to near perfection. The creators of American Vandal didn't need to see Making a Murderer Part 2 to know exactly how it would start. With their wildly similar opening montages, American Vandal establishes it's just as intelligent, agile, and pitch-perfect as we always thought was. The only difference? Now we have tangible proof. American Vandal is so smart it predicts the future.
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