American Vandal‚Äôs second season is a tale of loneliness.
It‚Äôs not as funny as its first season, which centered on a lovable goon, Dylan, who was framed for spray-painting dicks on teachers‚Äô cars. That doesn‚Äôt matter. American Vandal replaces easy-to-make goofs and obvious jokes with a story about teenage isolation, inescapable modernity and a primal need for connection. It‚Äôs never accusatory or judgmental; this isn‚Äôt a story about technology‚Äôs negative effect on tomorrow‚Äôs generation written by flabbergasted thirty-somethings. It‚Äôs a genuine confessional about the exhaustion that accompanies living two separate lives ‚ÄĒ one that offers messy fulfillment and another that projects an imagined happiness.
It‚Äôs an entire season defined by the following line:
‚ÄúYou know, Peter [and] Sam ‚Ä¶ I really mean this: I hope we keep in touch on social. Or, you know, in real life.‚ÄĚ
In season two, teenage, wunderkind detectives Peter and Sam are invited to solve a disturbing prank rampage occurring at an Oregon high school. There aren‚Äôt any dicks involved this time. Instead it‚Äôs a poop scandal, a series of stinky crimes being committed at the hands of a mysterious figure known as the ‚ÄúTurd Burglar.‚ÄĚ Their investigation takes them into different pockets of the school‚Äôs population, from the basketball team‚Äôs best players to the oddball, tormented misfits. There are echoes of John Hughes‚Äô ‚Äô80s films, but while their stories are as vitally honest as they were in The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink, they‚Äôre not as exaggerated.
What separates American Vandal from The Breakfast Club is its account of modern American teenage living: an undeterred, impressively realistic take on how a technology just over a decade old has forever changed how people think, learn, love, grieve, hate and identify with each other.
This season‚Äôs investigation puts students under a microscope so we can see them grapple with a form of teenagehood foreign to generations before them. They‚Äôre not just wrestling with acne, crushes, hook-ups, fights with friends, academic struggles, sports, part-time jobs and a standard, debilitating teenage angst; they‚Äôre also constantly performative. One potential suspect‚Äôs Instagram account gets the Mean Girls treatment, where everyone is commenting on it, and everyone vocalizes their opinion. Their Instagram account becomes a substitute for the real person; they are their account.
In 2018, it‚Äôs not enough to just exist anymore. There‚Äôs an emphasis on attaining and maintaining a certain clout, reiterating a projected version of perfection. Real life isn‚Äôt as important as the one in the cloud; the former feels temporary in the moment, while the latter feels like documented fact. Instagram proves people were at that party; Twitter feeds an incessant need to be instantly heard and rewarded with immediate response; YouTube is a way to get your thoughts across to people who might ignore you otherwise; Tumblr is a way to build up a status as an internet savant. In American Vandal, Instagram videos are a way to document who wound up at the coolest party in school and who didn‚Äôt. Hours are pored over who was there ‚ÄĒ who‚Äôs who.
American Vandal season two digs into the deeply choreographed online presence of its suspects, peeling away each faux layer until they can confront the real person sitting behind the screen, thumbs quickly typing quirky captions they‚Äôve stolen from a Google search. Moments like Peter and Sam having an honest conversation with a fellow 16-year-old kid about the exhaustion of being judged, and living up to pre-conceived, unrealistic standards, are when the show finds its moments of brilliance.
The crime committed in American Vandal‚Äôs second season is one born out of a complete lack of empathy ‚ÄĒ a retaliation against caricatures the culprit only knows through Instagram photos and Twitter videos, against a supposed happiness that the suspect can‚Äôt believe in because other people‚Äôs happiness is unfair when they‚Äôre living with depressive thoughts in isolation. It‚Äôs an unrelenting thought process of crying out over how unfair it is that everyone else is happier.
But no one‚Äôs really happier. Everyone is searching for something that will make them feel like the person they project to the world. It‚Äôs a tale of doing unspeakable things in hopes that maybe, just maybe, one person will see past the forced smile on Instagram and say, ‚ÄúI see you, I hear you, and I love you.‚ÄĚ
American Vandal presents the most honest conversation about being a teenager in a constantly connected, competitive and confusing world. The result of that are mostly sad teenagers; every 16-year-old in the series ‚ÄĒ the jock, the loner, the theater kid, the rich girl, the geek‚ÄĒ is broken. It‚Äôs also hopeful in spurts and, by the end of the season, everyone gets the connection they need through Peter and Sam‚Äôs digging.
Their investigation solves the crime, but it also accomplishes a far more important, unspoken task: giving a group of sad kids, who hide behind their online personas, a chance to be vulnerable, and talk openly about their thoughts without performing for or worrying about a faceless audience. After years of yelling in the wind on the internet, these teens finally got someone to listen.
American Vandal season 2 premieres on Netflix on Sept. 14.