Saturday, October 28, 2017

American Vandal

I just binged all 4+ hours of Netflix's brilliant American Vandal, and I loved it so much I felt compelled to jot down a few very brief, spoiler-free notes. It begins as a hilarious, spot-on parody of true crime documentary, but then turns into a smart and insightful commentary on documentary itself -- sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly -- touching on a host of ethical and rhetorical issues that are central to the format, including (but not limited to):

- Whether a documentarian has a bigger obligation to their subjects or to the truth
- The degree to which documentary has the power to affect change
- The murkiness of informed consent
- How documentarians can paint their subjects with a brush that might not match how their subjects see themselves
- How subjects can try to use a documentary to further their own ends
- How public perception can shape a story
- The consequences reflexivity can have for the shape and direction of a film
- The impact of social media on public perception
- How documentarians can insert themselves into the story

Truly mockumentary at its finest.

Bullet points for a few other thoughts:

- Jimmy Tatro is phenomenal as Dylan Maxwell. Dylan is a great character: hilariously idiotic and immature, but also open and emotionally intelligent (to a degree). Ultimately he’s introspective, and even undergoes two transformations near the end of the series, one uplifting, and the other sad. Tatro is endlessly watchable through it all.

- There is a lot of really funny stuff going on here, including the dead seriousness with which the characters treat the crime itself. The actors are all remarkably good at keeping straight faces while saying lines like “Who did the dicks?” or “Did you draw the dicks?” However, I was perhaps most amused by Sam’s color commentary on Peter’s occasional blunders during interviews.

- But then again, I also enjoyed the forensic breakdowns of various scenes that Peter and Sam tried to reconstruct during their investigation, both because they feature hilarious, unnecessary touches (like a tiny, erect penis on the recreation of an alleged hand-job), but also because their graphical polish so clearly soars far beyond the resources and technical capabilities of a high school AV club (or a zero budget, three-person documentary production).

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