(created/written by Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda, directed by Tony Yacenda)
As The Guardian‘s Graeme Virtue claims in his article about this series, as an audience we are becoming more obsessed with the mockumentary genre. We understand and joke about the common tropes documentaries possess; the moody walk on the beach, the shaky camera when discovering something important. They are iconic yet ridiculous tropes that we love to poke fun at. That is what got me invested in this new satire, American Vandel – the central focus of the series being Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) after he is accused of vandalising 27 cars with male paraphernalia in the teachers’ car park. An interesting yet crude set-up to this series, packed with many suspects and ‘filmed’ by the school’s own film students – and though it sounds ridiculous and farce, the direction of this series is anything but that.
The tone of American Vandel is unpredictably serious in its storytelling, the graphics used and editing are clearly professional and high budget, but considering this is meant to be done by high school students it does take that sense of realism away from the piece. However, the flow of the story is incredibly gripping, and whilst it took a few episodes to really gain its momentum I ended up watching the entire series in one go.
In terms of the show’s actors, the show is well-cast, and everybody gives memorable performances. Camille Ramsey plays fantastically a morally conflicted but heartbreaking part in the series as Dylan’s on-and-off girlfriend, Mackenzie Wagner. The protagonists Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Eckland (Griffin Gluck) are both engaging as geekily heroic detectives that really drives the series. Tatro as Dylan Maxwell carried the comedy elements of the series particularly well, as he effortlessly expressed Maxwell’s dimwitted nature and yet provides such texture to this supposedly 2-dimensional character in the finale, contemplating whether to live by his self-fulfilling prophecy of being the school’s devious prankster not destined for great things.
Something I was irked by was that I felt that I was not being trusted, as a viewer, to remember what was going on. I was repeatedly shown footage from previous episodes (or even from the same episode) as if I was being forcibly spoon-fed every piece of information I had already remembered beforehand. It was an easy way to gain momentum whenever Peter and Sam were reaching a climactic moment in their investigation, and whilst it was seemingly effective I reckon more could have been done with it.
Whilst this series constantly borders the line of satire and a serious documentary with a puerile set-up, this was an engaging series that had me binge-watch the entire series in quick succession. On the other hand, after the central joke of the show’s premise is an investigation into who painted male genitalia on 27 cars wears off, the comedy does not elevate beyond that and the series maintains its serious direction. I do understand that might just be my sense of humour not clicking with this particular satire, but it might work with others. Even so, this series was entertaining to watch so if you have a day to yourself I highly suggest you give this series a watch. It provides an interesting commentary on self-fulfilling prophecies and how we alienate people due to how we project our negative and presumptuous attitudes onto one another, leading to unfortunate consequences.
American Vandel is available on Netflix.