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'American Vandal' on Netflix: Satire or Stupid?

By George Khoury, Esq. on October 19, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The recently debuted series 'American Vandal' has definitely sparked some interest in the legal community, and not just for the jab it takes at 'Making a Murderer.' The Netflix original show is a satirical look at the true crime genre of docu-series, which, as pointed out by the ABA Journal, contains some rather poignant criticism of the criminal justice system and the media that surrounds it.

However, the satire in the show is rather strong, particularly given the nature of the underlying crime that prompts the criminal investigation: Every car in the high school faculty parking lot was vandalized, apparently by one person who spray-painted crudely drawn penises on each car.

Some of the big legal problems you'll find highlighted in the show involve the problems with eyewitness testimony and propensity evidence. The main suspect has a reputation for drawing penises everywhere, and that reputation precedes him and makes the case against him seem nearly airtight. This really highlights the danger of prior act evidence when it is not part of establishing a modus operandi.

Another issue the show highlights is the fact that innocent people actually do get arrested, and suspects are often overlooked based on the evidence available to investigators. At one point in the show, the two hosts of the docu-series put together presentations attempting to prove that the other host is the real American vandal.

More Than a Crude Eight Episode Sketch Comedy

Despite the bathroom, or locker-room, nature of penis graffiti humor, there is clearly serious criticism underpinning the show. Although it may put some folks off, the show is not for the humorless, and may even require a certain sort of sense of humor to appreciate.

If you don't like comedies, nor mockumentaries, but love true crime style shows, this may not be for you as it definitely pokes fun at that genre, exposing the problems these types of shows can create for suspects and witnesses. As one reviewer pointed out, as the show progresses it seems less and less like a true crime drama and more and more like a high school dramedy.

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