This is a non-spoiler review for all 8 new episodes of American Vandal, which premieres Friday, September 14 on Netflix.

“Forced confessions. Forced turds.”

Last year, when I reviewed the first season of American Vandal, I was admittedly caught off guard. The trailer had made it seem like a one-trick pony. A one-gag goof that shouldn’t last longer than a 3-minute parody video. But the series was so much more. So unexpectedly poignant and wise, with the ultimate joke being that…there was no joke. Not really. This was serious dick humor. And the mystery was so absorbing and compelling that it could easily hang with any of crime fiction’s best efforts and offerings.

Then came the afterglow. Season 1 was a triumph. Did there need to be more? To be fair, I could see the franchise continuing. I didn’t really want it to, but I wasn’t wholly opposed. Because American Vandal’s DNA was essentially mystery-based, I could imagine more adventures with Peter (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam (Griffin Gluck) than I could, say, more Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World, which had a tremendous first season, and left a perfect gloomy bow on top of its ending, but is also coming back for more despite some fans not wanting it to.

I’m happy to report though that American Vandal has crushed it again. Season 2 is warped and wonderful, with a vicious, yet hopeful, message at its core. Sadly, the season is lacking when it comes to stepping out from behind the camera a bit and showing Peter and Sam as characters outside of their investigation (Season 1 had a fun arc involving Sam’s friend, Gabi, and his crush on her), but the rest of this run is pitch perfect.

Moving, perhaps predictably, from penis humor to fierce fecal matter mischief, American Vandal now takes Peter and Sam up to Seattle to investigate – as part of their senior project back at Hanover High – a s***ty situation at an esteemed prep school. The location’s changed, the students are now all unknown to them, and the crimes (yes, there’s more than one incident) are much more vile and disruptive.

Season 2 raises the bar, presents wonderfully layered and nuanced new characters, and hits you with some amazing twists and curveballs in the final two episodes. By the end, you’ll be angrily shooing people out of the room if they try to bother you while you’re watching because you won’t want to miss a beat.

This string of 8 episodes is everything you want from a sequel season. It’s new, but also familiar. It uses the blueprint set in Season 1, but adds interesting new variables and tweaks. You’ll still find the “wrongly accused,” the “top suspect,” a school cover-up, a bit of larger messaging about academics taking a back seat to athletics, and enough wildcards to make your head spin.

But mostly, American Vandal scores where and when you least expect it to. The mystery aspect is cracking, as you’d expect, but it’s when the veil drops and you see the human beings, the real teens, behind the labeling and the trope-y classroom cliches that you start to fall in love with the generational commentary.

As Peter and Sam try to find the “Turd Burglar,” a deviant prankster who’s leveled St. Bernadine, a revered Catholic high school in Washington, with a series of s***-related stunts designed to maximize chaos and carnage – including poisoning a large percentage of the student body and causing them to explode with uncontrollable diarrhea – they find themselves dealing with a savvy and sinister phantom. Their first ever Moriarty type.

The devil, and the humor, is in the details here, as these two sleuths probe everything from Apple’s iOS glitch to the misuse of emojis to a deadpan argument about “clenching vs. straining.” To most of us, an undercurrent of giggles exist because these two are taking seemingly silly things, often used to mock their generation, seriously. But once you take a few steps back, you understand why Peter and Sam wouldn’t treat these habits as being trite or disposable. It’s part of their everyday life. The joke then becomes… about us. Because we didn’t take these things seriously to begin with. It’s kind of mind-blowing.

Easy to spot standouts this year, like Jimmy Tatro was back in Season 1, include Travis Tope (Boardwalk Empire) and Melvin Gregg (UnREAL). Tope’s Kevin McClain, a young man who confesses to the Turd Burglar crimes and represents the teen Peter and Sam are trying to exonerate, is a fascinating focus. Kevin is insufferable. By design. He’s the type of person who most of us have known in our lives at some point, but has rarely been portrayed on TV. Ostracized at a young age, Kevin realized that if he couldn’t fit in, he’d purposefully make himself odd and off-putting. He’s adopted a pretentious persona designed to garner attention, but not friends.

Melvin Gregg, much like the online fame Tatro brought to the show last year, started as an internet sensation. A Vine star. His jock-who-runs-the-block character, DeMarcus Tillman, is an equally intriguing joy. DeMarcus is self-centered, but good-natured. He’s dim in some areas, but wide awake in others. He cuts people down while also simultaneously helping them feel a little better about themselves. Could DeMarcus be the “Turd Burglar?” He’s got a lot to lose as the school’s top basketball star, but that position has also given him an aura of invulnerability.

As a funny side note, and you probably all saw this in the Season 2 trailer, Netflix itself is a minor player in the story. With American Vandal being presented to us as a “real” set of videos made by Peter and Sam, we learn this year that the first season was actually a Netflix-within-Netflix presentation. As in, Netflix bought Peter and Sam’s humble online show and souped it up (better-establishing shots, 3D computer renderings, etc). Now, entering Season 2, it actually becomes a crucial story point because Netflix has helped Peter and Sam’s labor of love skyrocket in popularity. Hence, people from all over the country reaching out and asking them to investigate various acts of vandalism at their schools. It allows the show to leave Oceanside, CA and head out to bold new s***-stained hallways.

The Verdict

American Vandal’s “Number Two” season stands tall, ramping up the intrigue and layering in diabolical twists and turns. The new characters are fun and, as the series progresses, wonderfully complex and while both Peter and Sam readily admit that “poop is funny,” they take this s*** seriously. And by the time they start asking, in total firmness, “Who’s the s*** eater?,” you’re not laughing either. You’re on the edge of your seat.


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