‘American Vandal’ Season 2 Pulls an Inside Flush out of a Crap Shoot
Netflix’s favorite AV club, “American Vandal,” is back at the green board. The intrepid high school investigative team went national after they probed their first case, a tragic incident of wanton destruction when a teen prankster drew dicks on the hoods of an entire parking lot of cars. Now they are back for round two. Co-creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, and showrunner Dan Lagana drop Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) into a world of shit for their sophomore season.
Netflix gave the squad a bigger budget for their second outing and, after rejecting investigations into “Vagina Graffiti” and a murderous cold case, they decide to flush out the Turd Burglar who laid waste on St. Bernardine, a private and exclusive Catholic school in Bellevue, Washington. The prankster caught local media and law enforcement’s attention when he or she brewed up laxative lemonade to go along with the school’s popular chicken finger lunch. The thirst quenching fruit flavored beverage caused a Brownout, sickening forty students, who rushed overcrowded bathrooms in vein attempts not to shit themselves.
Scatology isn’t a religion, although it may as well be to the directors of the current streaming season, it is finding the humor in shit. Literal shit, feces, doo doo, or poop, as is the most common term used by the characters during interviews. Scatological humor has been a staple of comedy from Jonathan Swift’s satirical classic story “Gulliver’s Travels” through “South Park’s” perennial yuletide character Mr. Hanky, whose image makes a cameo. “Poop is funny,” the investigators agree about halfway through the season.
Two other incidents followed the Brownout. One came in the middle of a prep rally, when a t-shirt cannon was turned into a shit launcher, spraying a fine dust of pulverized cat shit all over the assembled student bodies. Three t-shirts were launched that day, each bearing the Turd Burglar logo. They became instant collectables, shared on social media, which plays a large role as the series turns its sights on the cult of fame. The other incident came during an English lit teacher’s annual Kurt Vonnegut day, which was ultimately celebrated with a poop piñata. The blindfolded wielder of the baseball bat who whacked the crap out of the toy knew it wasn’t filled with sweets because “no one screams like that for candy.”
Season one tried to determine who spray-painted 27 dicks on 27 cars in the faculty parking lot of the public Hanover High in Southern California. Peter and Sam attended the school and knew how to maneuver the cliques which dictate who sits where at lunch. They are given all the Catholic School’s inside information from the girl who brought the crime to their attention, the main suspect’s friend Chloe (Taylor Dearden). The series lays out the usual high school suspects. The stars of the school who think they can get away with anything, and the bullied outsiders who get away with nothing.
The performances are naturalistic. The comedy comes in the details caught in the editing. The series captures the sensibilities of coming of age films but offers neither safe ground. In a “Hoop Dreams” moment straight out of “The Breakfast Club,” high school basketball star DeMarcus Tillman, played by Melvin Gregg, praises his teammate Squeak. In the midst of the celebration of team unity Tillman dumps on the less acclaimed sportsman without a touch of net. The smaller kid drops from an exuberant blush to a devastated flush without saying a word. The mean girls from the film “Mean Girls” can learn a lot from locker room talk. Fame hasn’t gone to the big man on campus’ head, at least not as much as it’s gotten to “Big Head” Ed, Tillman looks down on people with love. This doesn’t make him any less a suspect than “Fruit Ninja” superstar Kevin McClain (Travis Tope).
The first suspect confesses after being plied with tea and mozzarella sticks. He’d been grilled for hours by local cops, and his will had broken down. A born outsider who found local fame in an awful middle school band, he knows a little about the prison industrial complex. Tagged with the nickname “Shit Stain McClain” after an embarrassing game of Capture the Flag, he reinvented himself by adopting annoying affectations and karate chopping tossed fruit for his classmates. McClain lives with his grandmother (Susan Ruttan), who backs the kid up on his charges of a forced confession.
“American Vandal” ramps up the graphic coverage with some inspired toilet humor, breaks more wind than ground, but consistently delivers pointed satire. High school will always be high school, no app glitch or emoji can fix that shit. The series is at its best making fun of the true crime, long-form documentary genre itself. From posting public statistics about convicted criminals set free by justice warriors armed with cameras, to the teasing way they introduce new suspects and evidence. They remain on track. The investigation uncovers conspiracies, cover-ups and the favored status of star athletes and wealthy alumni while never losing the tortured high school experience everyone shares, regardless of school status.
The second season of “American Vandal” isn’t quite as effective as the first, which introduced the teen sleuths with a fresh take on the mission of truth, but continues to be a worthy skid mark for Netflix. The series continues to grow enthusiastically. It might be interesting to see the kids train their cameras on weightier cases. They certainly do a better job than the local cops they interview who are as judgmental of the students as they are of each other.
“American Vandal” season 2 premieres Sept. 14 on Netflix.