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The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Netflix Series "American Vandal" is More Than Just Penis and Pot Jokes

Adam Banner - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Honestly, if you have the right temperment (and you should know simply by reading the title of this blog entry), then seriously consider checking out the new series "American Vandal" currently streaming on Netflix.

Approach the show with an open mind, and enjoy the series for what it is: a hilarious send-up to the "true crime" genre.

The show takes a long, hard (pun intended) look at the genre itself and the emotional, social, and sometimes trivial impact it can have on those involved.

The American Bar Association (ABA) Journal recently published my article discussing the series itself and how the show correlates to actual criminal cases. The article is part on my ongoing, bi-weekly column regarding the intersections of law and pop culture.

"American Vandal" follows high school students and teachers in the aftermath of a costly, yet comical, prank orchestrated against all of the vehicles in the school faculty parking lot. As the show's title eludes, there is a vandal in the school, and he or she has drawn penises on all of the faculty members' automobiles. However, as the viewer learns, someone was also able to erase all of the surveillance footage, leading to a "kennedy-esque" subplot regarding the nature of the crime itself and whether one lone vandal could pull off the prank without the help of a second (or possibly third) culprit.

Serior student Dylan Maxwell is the prime suspect. He is ultimately expelled after a sham hearing with the school board. Sure, Dylan has a proclivity for penis drawing (he draws them everywhere), but the propensity evidence the school uses to "convict" him cuts against many of his due process rights. Two younger students set out to make a documentary following their attempts to find out whether Dylan actually committed the crime or whether there is a conspiracy to use Dylan as the fall-guy, effectively allowing the real vandal to escape punishment. 

Truth be told, many of the jokes in the series consist of nothing more than pot or penis punchlines (at least on the surface). Still, the series attempts to not only poke fun at the "true crime" genre but also point out many of the issues with post-hoc civilian-led investigations into crimes or alleged criminal activity.

Viewers are reminded that, at the end of the day, both the ones investigating and the ones being investigated are only human, for better or worse.

People lie. People embellish. People have motives that aren't always evident at first glance.

Framing the series in a high school helps to drive the point home. After all, there may be no better example than teenagers to show the fallacies inherent in human nature. The contrast between the individual students and the faculty members who should (but rarely do) hold some sort of maturity or moral high-ground over them helps establish the common thread that weaves throughout the series: anyone could be the vandal, and in some ways, everyone is.

The series has already been green-lighted for a second season. There is good reason behind that decision.






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