As this new season of American Vandal starts up, we move away from Hanover High to St. Bernardine, a private Catholic school in Washington. The writers cleverly break the fourth wall by pointing out that the “original series” that was produced by Peter Maldonaldo and Sam Ecklund was posted on Vimeo before being picked up and redesigned by Netflix (some fans of the “original” say it lost its gritty appeal). With this exposure, our two documentarians use their senior trip to explore the incident of the Turd Burglar—a madman who put laxatives in the cafeteria’s llemonade, causing half of the students to experience explosive diarrhea all over the building. But that’s not all. The Turd Burglar also tagged all of the shitting students on social media, making a video of them shitting their pants just one click away. This time around, our falsely accused student is Kevin McClane, an awkward, pretentious tea drinker who argues that he was coerced into making a false confession.
I don’t by any means think that this season of American Vandal was bad. I still do think that the show has a lot going for it, and it manages to hit a lot of the beats that made it great in the first place. But in some regards, it just sadly misses the mark. What I really admired about the first season is that it treated normal high school events like they were the most twisted crime we have ever seen. There was a certain beauty in its realism; it was funny how unnecessarily dramatic everything was, and the reason a lot of the cast came across as so real is because the situation felt so real. While I admit it is humorous to go from dick jokes to poop jokes, the situation is a bit too much. It’s funny, but it detracts from the realism that American Vandal used so eloquently in its first season.
The cast of characters this time around is also not as memorable as last season’s. For one, most of the young performers are recognizable actors; former Vine star Melvin Gregg and even DeRon Horton of Dear White People play pretty big roles in the plot. The St. Bernardine students are played well and do deliver quite a few laughs, but they’re just not as memorable as the students from Hanover High. Who can forget greasy Alex Trimboli and snake in the grass Mrs. Shapiro? Not to mention the marvelously played Dylan Maxwell?
The only two returning characters are Peter and Sam (not even a cameo from Jimmy Tatro unfortunately). While they are onscreen for a majority of the series, they get no further development. I believe this was because they are not students of St. Bernardine and are not that attached to the events taking place on screen. It feels like a huge oversight on the writers’ part to include characters from the original story and not do anything with them. They might as well have had two film-oriented students from St. Bernardine investigate the crime; at least this way they could engage with what was going on.
What I think I found the most frustrating about this season though was its conclusion. This mystery did not feel as carefully weaved as the first season; while the first season ended with a compelling message about how a person’s reputation can haunt them in ways unseen, this season goes for a pretty lame message about social media and the internet. Last season had a cleverly interwoven message about social media and how it can only contribute to building false narratives, but this time the show instead decides to beat us over the head with just how dangerous these narratives can be. Some much more interesting and yet very understated messages about classism and racism within a predominantly white institution aren’t explored as much as they should be. It feels like any real chance it gets to explore these much more dynamic themes gets substituted with a heavy handed social media message.
There’s a lot to enjoy with this show– its parody of true crime with frivolous and silly storylines is very enjoyable. Unfortunately, it seems like the showrunners have forgotten what made this show so compelling and interesting to begin with. It was incredibly multi-faceted and seemed to be developed with special and specific attention to detail in many areas. This season rides a very excited head-train but in the process it forgets what made it so great in the first place.