“We’re not the worst generation. We’re just the most exposed.”
On Friday, Netflix dropped season 2 of American Vandal to a certain amount of skepticism. The first season was impeccable, but it felt complete, and many fans wondered where it could go from there.
It turns out all those fears were unfounded because season 2 is perfection. It might even be better than the first.
The facts are these: Someone drugged the lemonade in the high school cafeteria, and everyone who drank it lost control of their bowels in spectacular fashion. Peter and Sam, our beloved documentarians, have been called in to get to the bottom of the case (and complete their senior project). It’s gross-out humor at its best, but it’s also a ripe opportunity to examine what it’s like to be a teenager today. There’s hardly anything more pertinent to high schoolers’ lives than the pervasiveness of social media, and an entire school shitting itself uncontrollably on Instagram is a good place to start that discussion.
But rather than the indictment of the oversharing age the show could easily be, it winds up as a moving defense of young people and their world.
Its final note is downright hopeful, a heartening reassurance that everything’s going to be alright. Kids can be cruel, sure, but for the most part, they’re just looking for love and acceptance like the rest of us. Social media can be bad, but it’s not inherently evil. It’s just the newest tool in humanity’s efforts to figure itself out.
After the gut-punch resignation of season one’s finale, this ending is remarkably positive. High school doesn’t have to be bad, even if you poop your pants in the cafeteria.
It’s important to remember that, in-universe, American Vandal is produced by two teenagers. They’ve been brought up on the internet, and they’ve never known life without instantly shareable information. It only makes sense that they’d understand the value of their own generation, and they do an admirable job explaining it.
The whole thing is remarkably refreshing, and its understanding of youth shows serious maturity.
It’s also wildly, uproariously funny. If anything, this season is funnier than last year’s, in no small part because of the new cast of characters. The real standouts are Melvin Gregg as DeMarcus Tillman and Travis Tope as Kevin McClain. Just like Jimmy Tatro’s well-meaning stoner slacker of last season, these two are wonderfully crafted characters who are funny simply for the archetypes they play. They don’t make jokes, per se, but their dialogue has a comedic element that’s innate to who they are — DeMarcus the overly confident athlete, Kevin the performatively pretentious weirdo. Both are such recognizable yet specific tropes, played to perfection, that their very screen presence is hilarious.
But while the show could stop at pitch-perfect comedy and call it a day, it goes so much further than that. Because just like last year’s Dylan, these two characters, who are so funny because of their familiarity, wind up becoming much more by the end. American Vandal has a gift for expertly capturing a tone, whether of a tv show or a person, and exploding it into something you care about and respect deeply.
And you come to care about everything. The question “Who is the Turd Burglar?” is a genuine mystery and one you can’t help but become invested in. And the answer — yes, there is an answer — is satisfying and shocking and complete.
Season 2 may not be the twisting metanarrative I dreamed of in my trailer breakdown, but that’s probably for the best. It’s a complete, standalone story that’s fantastically done and that, importantly, sets a precedent for years to come. American Vandal already proved that it could do an astoundingly funny and poignant documentary, and now it’s proven that it can do it again.
There is theoretically nothing stopping the show from following this formula for as long as it cares to, and for as long as audiences want it.
I hope they’ll be doing it for a very long time.