Netflix’s latest original series, American Vandal, is about a high school senior named Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), who’s in a bit of a pickle. “This is just not the way I thought things were going to go. I was going to graduate high school, get my degree in engineering,” he says in the trailer’s eerie voiceover. “I know I didn’t do it.”
He’s been accused of vandalism, or more specifically of spray-painting a bunch of dicks on the cars in the school parking lot. Only the well-meaning teen journalist Peter Maldanaldo (Tyler Alvarez) can uncover the truth!
The series’s trailer is structured beat-for-beat like a trailer for one of Netflix’s wildly popular true crime projects, like 2015’s Making a Murderer, 2016’s Amanda Knox documentary, or this spring’s The Keepers miniseries. Netflix has been one of the biggest participants in and drivers of a true crime renaissance, spurred by HBO’s The Jinx and Serial, the viral podcast that will soon be a TV show on Fox. This January, Chris DeVille wrote about this type of series for The Verge, saying, “limited series present a formal sweet spot between a feature film and a traditional episodic show that makes them TV's closest equivalent to a paperback novel. So police work, a subject that lends itself to pulp fiction, has proven ideal for this format.” The limited, true crime series is also the perfect Netflix format, as it’s short and faux-urgent enough to burn through in a single day.
But maybe the moment is over. It’s been less than four months since Netflix debuted a new documentary about the JonBenét Ramsay case, but with American Vandal, the platform / production powerhouse now seems willing to mock the movement it’s at least 40 percent responsible for.
American Vandal’s straight-faced satirical trailer does borrow from Making a Murderer in one way that’s a little uncomfortable. Playing off that series’s assertion that Steven Avery was just too stupid to have committed a complicated murder, this trailer has one student testify of the alleged dick-drawer, “They say he deleted the security footage... there’s just no way. He’s the dumbest person I’ve ever met.” The true crime resurgence is ripe for comedy, but I’m not sure why the butt of the joke would be the original subjects.
The series is a collaboration between Dan Perrault, who makes ScreenJunkies’ Honest Trailers series, and Tony Yacenda, who is best known for his work on CollegeHumour Originals and rapper Lil Dicky’s unbearable music video for the unbearable song “Pillow Talking.” The show was produced by Funny or Die, 3Arts, and CBS’s television division, and the first season launches on Netflix on September 15th.