Taking its cues from true crime docu-series like Making a Murderer and The Jinx, American Vandal follows an investigation into a heinous act of public vandalism at a California high school, in which 27 faculty cars were spay-painted with rude graffiti of the kind favoured by Summer Heights High pupil Jonah.
With all the evidence pointing to the class clown, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), sophomore student Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alverez) makes it his mission to discover if Dylan was really responsible.
Indeed, there’s more than a touch of Chris Lilley’s cheeky mockumentary style about this convincingly constructed satire, not least the fact that following its premiere in September 2017, social media went into meltdown from debate over the authenticity of the show.
Creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, who have produced shorts for Funny or Die and College Humour, recognised the need for a semblance of truth and a straight-faced approach. Utilising interviews with key witnesses and other tropes of investigative documentaries, it’s not hard to see why many believed that what they were watching was real, despite the rather ridiculous nature of the crime itself.
“We have these major elements that are funny, but once that’s set, the approach is completely earnest,” said Yacenda. “Let’s tell this real story, let’s tell this really tense documentary.”
The show does have some tenuous basis in truth, however, with showrunner Dan Laguna’s teenage stepson having been accused of a similar crime while a high school freshman.
Such was the success of American Vandal, it was quickly renewed for a second season, with Yacenda and Perrault taking the anthology approach favoured by American Horror Story– same cast, different crime.