Friday, September 14, 2018

REVIEW: Netflix's 'American Vandal' Sends Peter and Sam to a New School to Investigate a Poop Attack in Season 2

Netflix's American Vandal debuted its entire 8-episode second season on Friday, September 14. This post will feature brief reviews of each episode of the season.

The comedy stars Tyler Alvarez, Griffin Gluck, Travis Tope, Melvin Gregg, Taylor Dearden and DeRon Horton.

201. "The Brownout"
Written by Tony Yacenda & Dan Perrault and directed by Tony Yacenda

American Vandal was one of the most delightful surprises to come from last year. It emerged out of nowhere and took the world by storm. It asked one simple question: Who drew the dicks? It then presented such a complicated answer. And now, the show is back for its second season where it will try to live up to the acclaim it rightfully earned a year ago. Second seasons can be incredible tough - especially for shows that knocked it out of the park the first time around. There is definitely the sense that the creative team is trying to up the stakes with the main plot of the new season. Peter and Sam are still the documentarians filming these cases of vandalism. But this time, they are on the road to Washington state after hearing about the Turd Burglar case. This story is much more extreme because it could actually be read as physical assault instead of simple vandalism. Those are some extreme criminal charges. Plus, this premiere hints that there were three singular events that occurred over the course of eight days. Right now, the team is only laying out the specifics of one of them. As such, it's clear that the vandal this season is making a much more concerted effort to terrorize his or her classmates. That makes them even more damaging than Dylan was a year ago. As such, it's clear that the stakes this season are different than they were a year ago. Of course, there are some familiar rhythms as well. This premiere lays out everything that happened during the brown out. Some students went to lunch where they drank some tainted lemonade that made them poop themselves all over the school. It's such a brutal and disgusting visual. The show is very careful with how much imagery to use from the actual event. In the end, it's just enough to make the audience sick and unnerved by the entire experience. We can get caught up in the search for justice as well. It may even be overwhelming to the point that we allow the detective and security guard the leverage to pressure the main suspect for hours until he finally confesses. Just like Dylan, Kevin McClain has a mounting pile of evidence against him. The show makes a pretty damning case for him being responsible. He suffered from years of bullying due to one incident in the fifth grade. Since then, he's been a loner with completely wild shifts in his personality. Everyone is mean to him. Even his best friend makes a statement to the investigation. But Kevin's grandmother says Kevin couldn't have been guilty because he was a victim of the brown out as well. That somehow was never a question asked during the interrogation. As such, it should force everyone to analyze the case differently even though the school may already be willing to get closure on all of this in order to protect its reputation at the national level. So, some themes and plot points are familiar. But the case is much more extreme this season. B+

202. "#2"
Written by Dan Lagana and directed by Tony Yacenda

Kevin McClain is the easy stand-in for Dylan Maxwell this season. He's the person everyone believes to be the Turd Burglar. And yet, the show is very wise not to make him a direct copy of the most effective character from the first season. In fact, this episode informs the audience of just how articulate and smart Kevin can be. He is now pushing this narrative that the investigators coerced him into a false confession. As he is laying out all of the evidence and the documentary is showing the actual footage from the interrogation, it's clear that these investigators have no idea how to handle this case. They are leading Kevin to confessing because they already came to the conclusion that he was guilty. They have no physical evidence but it's the story that they've created that makes sense. It allows them to close this case. Meanwhile, the documentary offers a powerful argument that disproves every single point of the investigation so far. It talks about the other two incidents where the Turd Burglar struck. Those are less important than the brown out but still vital components of the timeline and how it informs Kevin's guilt. Plus, Kevin is a completely different but very effective construct for modern teenagers. He has developed this quirky persona where he is allowed to have a strong sense of himself that he wears as armor to deflect from bullying that his fellow students may be doing. He is in on the joke which allows him to still have high self-esteem. He's such a particular person who wants to improve the world and those around him even though he's too weird for anyone to tolerate for very long. He was labeled the outsider whom everyone enjoyed laughing at. But the reality was never going to be as simple as that. Of course, the show is also explaining how it can't rule Kevin out as a suspect. Peter wants to because everything that Tanner talked about could have just been simple payback which would destroy the investigation's evidence against Kevin. And yet, Sam believes that Kevin still could have done it and covered his tracks by actually pooping his pants during the brown out. That's the funniest moment of the new season so far as Sam tries to explain the different faces of clenching versus squeezing. He believes it's a damning piece of evidence that should inform their investigation moving forward. And yet, it's more damning to know the convenience store doesn't have the chemical that led to the brown out in its laxatives or any products. Plus, Chloe becomes a more vital character as she offers a new accusation for who could have committed these crimes. A-

203. "Leaving a Mark"
Written by Kevin McManus & Matthew McManus and directed by Tony Yacenda

This episode is the true introduction of DeMarcus, the star basketball player at St. Bernardine's. It starts off with a recruitment video highlighting his skills on the court, his determination to succeed based on where he comes from and the style he brings to the sport. It's all played as a celebration. And yet, the audience is also fully aware of just how tragic and damning it can be - especially when he is referred to as Mr. Untouchable. That sets up the precedent that he could have gotten away with this crime if he was indeed the Turd Burglar. Sure, it's still pure suggestion at this point. Sam and Peter are wondering if the school would have placed the blame on Kevin in order to cover up a prank that became a vicious crime committed by their star athlete. This episode exposes and explores just how invasive and defining these kinds of athletic programs can be. Basketball is the defining program of this school. One recent player has gone on to UCLA with the school already being proud of all of DeMarcus' achievements. But Peter and Sam are also asking how that kind of complete praise and willingness to allow him to do whatever he wants without fear of consequences changes a person. Chloe doesn't have any vendetta against DeMarcus. She makes this accusation solely because of something she saw in his wallet that could also be confused with the local frozen yogurt punch card. Right now, the show is presenting a massive conspiracy that could unravel years of systemic abuse by the school system. It props up the sports department because of the money it brings in while having a zero tolerance for the students who make some minor mistakes. It highlights the many different ways that athletes are treated. The school probably isn't willing to discipline the students responsible for bringing in so much attention to the program. DeMarcus has free reign over campus and is allowed to do so much. He's still a tragic character as well. But he is still given a lot of privilege. His reasoning for the Turd Burglar crimes could have been nothing more than a prank. He just didn't think through how it would be perceived. He wanted to be like his idol not knowing just how life-changing it was to the girl he cyber-bullied. And yet, the Turd Burglar became this massive thing that everyone understands is a crime after the brown out. Is DeMarcus willing to risk everything to keep the prank going and even taunt the documentary for the lack of progress they have made? He claims to be untouchable. That may absolutely be true. He has the ability to do so much. But that doesn't mean he committed these crimes. The story has to look at things from all angles even when it's easy to see the conspiracy and the lack of empathy involved. A-

204. "Shit Talk"
Written by Mark Stasenko and directed by Tony Yacenda

The very specific ways in which Peter and Sam investigate these crimes is always very amusing. They are still teenagers who get very caught up in their own personal beliefs about the investigation. This season alleviates that somewhat because they have no pre-existing connections with the students they are documenting. They just want to get to the truth. But it's also so fascinating watching them put in this work. They are obsessing over the smallest details. The show is so smart in potentially ruling out its main suspects simply because of the glitch that occurred during the iPhone's recent update. It's also important to note that DeMarcus misuses the grimace face emoji. Meanwhile, the Turd Burglar posts periods after emojis in its messages. There is even a confessional from a professor of forensic linguistics who is helping explain why all of this relevant. Of course, this episode also expands the world of St. Bernardine's in the hopes of widening the suspect list. Peter and Sam are investigating three new suspects who could have motives to commit the crime - a theater nerd, the daughter of the wealthiest family and the religious fanatic. All of them are such passionate and thorough investigations laying out why they have a motive and why they are ultimately ruled out as suspects. It's definitely difficult to envision any of them actually being the Turd Burglar. But with the potential evidence suggesting that neither Kevin nor DeMarcus are guilty, then that leaves the documentary with no leads. As such, it's easy to understand why the Turd Burglar is even taunting them. The social media profile hasn't responded to anyone but felt it necessary to reach out to Peter. It may just be for another prank connected to the central crime. There are no new clues that come from the teasing either. The coordinates sent to Peter and Sam still fall within the perimeter of Kevin's house arrest. But it's much more damning when Sam realizes that a potential fourth crime was committed by the Turd Burglar and the school has covered it up. The administration couldn't do so with the first three assaults because they were public displays where the students had their phones out recording it. There was proof that they occurred. But the fourth crime indicates that someone may have eaten poop instead of chocolate on an advent calendar. That potentially exonerates Kevin because he was already on house arrest. As such, the plot thickens with it seeming pretty clear that the school once again has an agenda that it is trying to uphold. Potentially for malicious reasons. But also possibly for privacy of its employees. B+

205. "Wiped Clean"
Written by Seth Cohen & Amy Pocha and directed by Tony Yacenda

Sam asking Mr. Fernandez if he ate shit is absolutely hysterical. He absolutely means it literally as well. It's not just him being vulgar because of the freedom Netflix affords the documentary or the poop-related humor abound at the school. He wants to know if this teacher took a chocolate from the Advent calendar and it actually turned out to be cat shit. That's such a brilliant and inspired setup. The show takes a minute to get to that point. It has to establish that a fourth crime did occur in the teacher's lounge and that it has been covered up. That leads to the introduction of Hot Janitor, who probably should have been fired for supplying mushrooms to students. In fact, it should be interested to see what the outcome of this story will be once the season is released to the public. Will it force the show to change its policies? The Gifts of the Lamb trip especially seems like a vacation in disguise as a charity relief mission. But again, the school continues to exert its power. Mrs. Wexler has the influence and respect of the teachers. She is able to cover up this crime knowing fully well that Kevin had already confessed to being the Turd Burglar. She is able to rationalize it by saying that he must have had an accomplice. It wasn't worth following up who helped him in these attacks because then it could lead to this story getting even more attention in the local media world. She couldn't risk that negative press coverage. And yet, that is bound to come no matter what because of the documentary Sam and Peter are producing. When this is released, it's going to cast St. Bernardine's in an unflattering light. Sure, it's possible that not a whole lot will change. The basketball team will still be propped up as the most important program at this school. It may not even derail DeMarcus' plans to play professionally. But it will have an impact. That is clear to see. And now, it's a battle to see who is willing to actually stand up and fight for what is right. Kevin is absolutely defeated. He is given hope by Peter and Sam. And then, everything comes crashing down because they can't find anyone willing to talk about this fourth crime actually happening. The coverup has simply been too good. Plus, there's no certainty that Kevin didn't have help in getting the cat shit chocolate in the Advent calendar. Of course, the show is moving full steam ahead with the investigation. After a confrontation with Chloe, Kevin suggests an idea to the documentary that actually presents a new suspect. DeMarcus' best friend and teammate, Lou, is seen going in and out of the teacher's lounge. Now, the audience should have been expecting some twist to occur with him because he's played by DeRon Horton - who also stars in Netflix's Dear White People. But it's going to be fascinating to see if this is damning information or can be conveniently explained away. A

206. "All Backed Up"
Written by Jaboukie Young-White and directed by Tony Yacenda

Is DeMarcus actually in control of his own life? Or does his stardom and skills on the basketball court trump everything else about him? On the surface, it seems like he has a fantastic life by being able to play basketball and get a great education at St. Bernardine's. He has an opportunity for success not afforded to him from his neighborhood. And yet, it's also clear that the system is choosing to protect him from the harsh realities of the world. They just need to continually prop him up as this star player who can do no wrong. As such, he has no real regard for consequences. He believes he's popular because he's friends with everyone. But it never seems like anyone is completely genuine with him. He believes Lou is assisting him in every aspect of his life. Both on the court and off, Lou is DeMarcus' guy. They do everything together. But now, Lou presents himself as someone who is very much attaching himself to DeMarcus' success and cultivating an environment of protection where no one can take him down. DeMarcus gets special treatment. He is revered by the school. He even gets special lunches made for him. That's completely absurd. It's so ridiculous that Lou has access to the teacher's lounge because of it too. If it's so important, why not get a second microwave? The teacher's lounge has to be off limits to students for a reason. Instead, it's so easy to see how these systems can fall apart even when propping up examples of individuals who are absolutely thriving. This has been a healthy environment for DeMarcus. But it's so destructive to those who don't wish to play into the narrative of his stardom. Tanner turned on his best friend for something that Lou did. Kevin is under house arrest because he's just the more accepted perpetrator. And now, the abuse of the basketball team is exposed where the teammates are all a part of a pact to keep information about DeMarcus and Lou away from the documentary. If they don't comply, then they will be physically assaulted. It's bullying. So much of this season has been about cyber bullying and the lastinb impacts the digital age is having on those coming of age right now. But it's still so abusive to watch these students believe they have complete run of the world because they have been cheered on for so long. Their minds have been twisted into believing this is acceptable behavior. Even if it's all some elaborate twist that has a sensible explanation revealing that neither Lou nor DeMarcus are the Turd Burglar, it's still assault for them to hurt their fellow teammates. But again, will they suffer any real consequences from it? Right now, they are coming off as incredibly intimidating. They have the freedom to do this at the cost of so many lives. As such, it's empowering when people are willing to step forward and go on the record for the official story. A

207. "Shit Storm"
Written by Jessica Meyer and directed by Tony Yacenda

This episode starts with a new confession and closes with a crazy new conspiracy of influence and deception. Kevin texts Peter that he is guilty of being the Turd Burglar. He is scared into hiding because of DeMarcus and Lou. They are immediately threatening him out of fear of the consequences. As such, they believe violence and intimidation is enough to solve their problems. That's absolutely horrifying. And then, all three of them are completely vindicated. This is the episode where their innocence is finally proven. None of them are the Turd Burglar. The official account was messaging with Peter at the exact same moment that the three of them are having their confrontation outside the convenience store. As such, the show immediately has to explore different avenues for who could possibly be behind this crime. It does so by revealing that Jenna lied about her alibi. She wasn't at her internship when the pep rally launchers went off. In fact, she was the one who loaded them with the cat poop so that they would spray all over the student body. Peter and Sam are quickly able to put together that case because of a picture taken of Jenna's damaged car revealing she had the shirts that were suppose to launch out of the cannons. All of this means that she has to confess to her own actions. But that only adds a whole new layer to this mystery. Once again, this season is so profound by highlighting the many ways the digital age has impacted the way these students have grown up. They have the freedom of limitless connection. And yet, they don't have the tools to realize what's appropriate and what's not. Jenna bares her soul and falls in love with a woman she just has an online connection with. It's easy to see why she doesn't believe she has been catfished. It's not just pictures. There are intimate details and actual video messages. That shows just how tech-savvy the Turd Burglar actually is. The person behind these crimes really is outsmarting everyone. No one even knew about these other fake accounts. In fact, it's all a ruse in order to get blackmail information and force other individuals to help him or her plan these various attacks. As such, the Turd Burglar isn't even the person who put the poop into the shirt launcher. Jenna did that. She confesses to the crime. As such, it seems likely that the Turd Burglar could have coerced other people into carrying out these attacks. That's proof that this investigation extends so much further than Peter or Sam initially imagined. They have to travel to Oregon State University just to tell a women that her digital footprint has been stolen. That's absolutely heartbreaking and shows just how corrupt these systems can be when used against those who are most vulnerable. B+

208. "The Dump"
Written by Kevin McManus & Matthew McManus and directed by Tony Yacenda

There was definitely the pressure this season to provide a more definitive answer to the perpetrator behind the central crime. There needed to be a grand unmasking of the Turd Burglar simply because of all that he did throughout the entire season. It wasn't just one crime that was considered an act of vandalism. It was multiple attacks at the school plus the blackmailing of multiple students in the hopes of avoiding detection. As such, it set up expectations that the Turd Burglar was incredibly smart with technology and aware enough of how to use people's insecurities and fears against them. This finale once again resonants in such a surprising and emotionally earned way because of the observations it makes about this upcoming generation. They have been raised in the social media world. Grayson targeted his various classmates because he was convinced that they were simply wearing masks in every aspects of their lives. He wanted to remind all of them that they are pieces of shit. He wanted to be extremely literal with that. He wanted people to be covered in it, have it exploding out of them and be terrified about being the person who actually caused that trauma for the fellow students. This finale reveals that Grayson was blackmailing multiple people in the hopes of getting them to commit these acts. He just printed out the instructions and provided the poop. As such, it's a much more complex examination of the case. It's so widespread that forces a lot of narration in this finale. But it's also filled with many enjoyable twists that show the true disparity and loneliness felt by the characters this season. Peter and Sam really are just the anonymous observers to all of this. They didn't have an impact on the story. And yet, their investigation led to the reveal of Grayson's actions. Peter feeling the need to send a direct message confirming that it was all about to end led to the fifth attack though. Does Peter feel any guilt about that? He warned Grayson and provided him with enough time to leak all of the compromising photos and videos that he had collected. It's easy for Peter to feel empowered by being able to get to the truth of this mystery and vindicate those falsely accused. But his actions also force many to deal with some profound consequences. DeMarcus' career is in shambles after his nude selfies are released to the world. He is completely embarrassed because he fell for a catfish believing that she was the only person he could feel genuine with. Grayson was so articulate in being able to pinpoint a person's insecurities and exploit them. Sure, the majority of his actions were done through blackmail. As such, DeMarcus and Jenna only had to complete community service. But Kevin really was behind the brown out. He didn't realize the scope of his actions until it was all playing out in front of him. He did poop his pants on purpose to deflect the blame off of him. He kept this a secret from the documentary team this entire time. He too was ashamed and scared because of what he was willing to do to feel less alone. All of this shows the power social media has to bring us together. It presents a way for Peter and Sam to stay friends with Kevin and Chloe once they leave town. But it's also a very dangerous tool when used to exploit people. That means that this generation has been trained from such a young age to live on that global platform without full awareness of the perils that are involved. That's dangerous and can lead to something like what happened at St. Bernardine's. A