American Vandal Season Two Is a Vital Ode to NonJudgment

first_img During college, a frequent object of ridicule for my friends and me was the notion of “Performance Studies” as an academic pursuit. We understood the practical professional value of studying performance as it related to the aspiring actors and filmmakers in our social circle. But analyzing performance for its own sake just sounded like another example of academia’s self-indulgence.Maybe it’s because I’ve now become a self-indulgent pop culture academic, but I study performance constantly these days. From hot pepper-eating streaming stars in pain on YouTube to Black people slyly navigating treacherous white spaces to people’s “Real Lives” they meticulously cultivate on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, folks are constantly performing in the modern world whether they are cognizant of it or not. The racial concept of “code-switching” has been expanded out to almost everyone.The second season of Netflix’s American Vandal explores this concept so brilliantly because the stakes of perpetual performance are infinitely heightened for a generation of hyper-contemporary teenagers growing up through it. With its perfect true crime parody mixed with stunningly insightful views of the new tech-driven high school experience (and a well-paced 4-hour run time per season), American Vandal was already the best show on the streaming TV service. The second season, as a result, can only meet those high expectations instead of shattering them. But that doesn’t diminish from its accomplishment in any way.THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER-FREE Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Although original (and fictional) documentarians Peter and Sam return, along with some in-universe Netflix money, their plots and anyone else’s from the first season of American Vandal are basically over. This season is a brand new sprawling Dickensian social epic about a prestigious Pacific Northwest private Catholic school at the mercy of villainous online alias “The Turd Burglar” and their nefarious poop crimes.I’m not the first to make this observation, but it is weird how a season that opens with everyone pooping their pants feels like it now only includes jokes as an afterthought. With the exception of maybe Hot Janitor, the comedy can’t cut through how effective the sheer mystery drama is or the deep teen melancholy that fuels it (and that we won’t spoil here). It’s not really an issue, just a shift in tone. And it’s actually maybe for the best since unlike season one the show can longer treat its high level of quality as a surprise.Honing down on the emotionally complex teen social dynamics really allows American Vandal to explore a variety of fascinating topics. There’s the difference between your various presentations of yourself depending on the context, privately and publicly, alone or with friends, on or offline. There’s a Get Out-esque look at the condescending racism that comes from being the beloved and profitable Black basketball star at a white school, and how that both reinforces and ironically inverts a person’s class background and social privileges. It’s about how fame can isolate you and warp your perspective, especially when you’re young and not fully formed, as well as how athletes are tragically underserved in their actual education. Like the poisonous poop crimes, a part where a character is mocked for his ignorance and opening up through bad poetry is too screwed up, real, and sad to be that funny.But wait there’s more! There’s a nuanced look at modern bullying and how it can lead to kids being weird on purpose (putting on affectations like weird accents or always looking down in pictures) to beat their bullies to the punch. It shows how these people can end up devolving into Reddit/4chan/incel white dudes poisoning so much of the online experience because of how they were mistreated as well as how they refuse to recognize their own issues. Just the performances alone wrung out of these young actors to get across these complicated feelings should win this show all the Emmys.The examination of how tech impacts today’s teens also makes American Vandal a more effective digital horror anthology than Netflix’s own Black Mirror and perhaps the best after-school special of all time. I made a choice to be Always Online and a #Brand because of this job. But these kids don’t have a choice. Dealing with Twitter in high school is just such a cursed concept. Pile on other nightmares like catfishing and the gaslighting of being forced to confess to a crime you didn’t commit.Even the poop stuff ends up having some larger thematic connections beyond just being funny and a meta-joke on this being season number two. Poop is gross, and we deny it but denying it also makes us full of it. Everybody poops. Poop is a fundamental part of being human. Poop is vulnerability made physical. Our hypocritical approach to it is a microcosm for larger hypocrisies. Plus poop is a top five emoji.The first season of American Vandal ended on a Breakfast Club-esque epilogue urging us to not judge kids based on archetypes we slot them into. It’s about personal human interactions fighting against societal dehumanizing (and self-inflicted) biases. Season two continues this message of non-judgment by laying out the protective and expressive reasons why kids, and really everyone, use performative social masks. They’re metaphorical as well as literal, like horse heads for your bad EDM band or the nickname Asian Josh when you’re really Mexican. I won’t sum up the season’s ultimate thesis, because the show does a great enough job itself and you should really watch, but the takeaway is an expert blend of intelligent and compassionate, as effective in its conclusiveness as season one was in its purposeful ambiguity. I’m still in awe of how entertaining, enriching, and just plain essential American Vandal is.For more on Netflix check out their recently announced Avatar: The Last Airbender remake as well as our review of Iron Fist season two. What to Stream on Netflix This Weekend11 Other Old-School Nick Shows That Should Get Netflix Movies Stay on targetlast_img read more