“American Vandal” Is a Brilliant Mockumentary

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Netflix is becoming known for more than its first-rate dramas. You can now add edgy new comedies to the mix as well, as evidenced by “American Vandal,” a brilliant mockumentary. This 8-part series is a wonderful parody of the true crime investigative dramas along the lines of “Making a Murderer” and “Serial.”

“American Vandal” is a brilliant satire of true crime investigative dramas

First and most importantly, “American Vandal” brilliantly captures the rhythm and cadence of those nonfiction true crime dramas. There are so many throwaway lines that have been so common in these shows that they are now cliché – “they got the wrong guy” and “everybody thinks I did it” are just two of the most obvious. “American Vandal” has characters intone those phrases with so much seriousness that you’re tempted to burst out laughing.

Here’s the thing – the brilliant joke at the center of this mockumentary is that a high school senior (Dylan Maxwell, played by Jimmy Tatro) has been expelled for drawing graphic, obscene images of cartoon phalluses on 27 faculty member cars. He, of course, claims steadfastly that he’s not the one behind this outrageous act. That leads a high school sophomore filmmaker (Peter Maldonado, played by Tyler Alvarez) to explore whether there might be a deeper, darker secret at the school that people are trying to cover up.

That leads to a whole slew of outrageous scenes, such as where characters examine the cartoon phalluses reputedly drawn on the cars with the cartoon phalluses that class clown Dylan Maxwell is fond of drawing. They find that the images are similar, but not exact matches. So is it possible that someone else might have really drawn them and then blamed Dylan?

“American Vandal” mockingly asks, “Who Drew the Dicks?”

You can immediately see how ridiculous this becomes. It is an 8-part comedy about, yes, dicks. It is filled with adolescent dick jokes. Characters call them “dicks” right there in the movie. Characters talk about “ball hairs.” And this is not a mistake – Netflix very much wants you to be having this conversation about dicks. The hashtag for this comedy is, in fact, #WhoDrewtheDicks. According to one media critic, dicks are mentioned or shown at least 1,000 times over the course of the 8-part series. You can not escape these dicks.

But here’s the thing – this is not a “dick movie.” At least, not one that we’re used to seeing and enjoying. The two creators of “American Vandal,” Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, have a long history with two sophomoric humor websites (Funny or Die, College Humor), but they promised Netflix that this would not be just one long, extended “dick joke sketch.” Instead, it is meant to be more subtle, more biting, and thus, more brilliant.

Take that hashtag, for example. “Who drew the dicks?” has the potential to be a laughably bad line in the show, but it’s used in such a way that it brilliantly lampoons other shows that have used similar types of lines to attract visitors (“Who killed Laura Palmer?” is just one example). Thus, Netflix is lampooning more than just “dick movies,” it is going much further afield to lampoon other genres of films. This is brilliant stuff.

“American Vandal” is a brilliant example of narrative storytelling

But all of that dick humor would have gone to waste if there wasn’t an engrossing plot at the center. If that wasn’t, who would stick around for 8 episodes of dick jokes? But you do want to find out who’s responsible for this phallic graffiti, and each new episode comes with twists and turns.

One of them – spoiler alert! – involves the narrator. It turns out that this high school student might not be telling the whole story, or at least, presenting facts from a certain point of view. That helps to keep the viewer off-balance, as well as to cast doubt on everything that we’ve seen already. As a result, we’re kept guessing until the very end about the true identity of this American vandal.

“American Vandal” offers an authentic portrayal of American high school

Moreover, “American Vandal” gets top ratings for its realistic portrayal of high school. The characters are so believable, and the acting is so good, that it can be hard to forget that these are indeed actors and actresses playing the role. According to the film’s creators, that was built into the casting process. They were looking for people who could be believable in these roles. They wanted to capture the look and feel of a typical American high school.

“American Vandal” is a bold example of a comedy made for millennials

In many ways, Netflix was bold to green light this mockumentary. For one, mockumentaries aren’t known for being hits with movie audiences. Other than a few – such as “Spinal Tap” – how many mockumentaries could you name off the top of your head? But this 8-part series is bold for another reason – it is a brilliant exploration of millennial comedy.

Let’s face it – it’s difficult for many filmmakers to connect with the younger millennial generation. For members of older Generation X, a film like “The Hangover” is great comedy. But what do members of the millennial generation consider to be funny?

It’s no mistake, then, that the two creators behind this NSFW comedy are also veterans of Funny or Die and College Humor, both of which cater to young millennials. This is the direction Netflix wants to go with this 8-part fictional documentary, and the fact that millennials are connecting with it is proof of its brilliance. People are actually using the hashtag #WhoDrewTheDicks across social media. On Rotten Tomatoes, “American Vandal” has a nearly perfect 96% freshness rating.

“American Vandal,” then, is eminently binge-worthy. You can try to watch all 8 episodes in a single weekend, or you can spread them out over a period of 8 weeks, as you were encouraged to do with “Serial” or other investigative dramas that “American Vandal” so brilliantly spoofs. But you won’t be able to stop until you find out the true identity of the person who defaced 27 faculty member cars with a bunch of crudely-drawn dicks.

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“Me, Myself & I” Is a Fantastic New Comedy

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If you’re a big fan of primetime sitcoms, you need to check out the new CBS sitcom “Me, Myself & I,” which premiered on Monday, September 25. Starring Bobby Moynihan (of “Saturday Night Live” fame) and John Larroquette, “Me, Myself & I” is a fantastic new comedy that’s refreshing, funny and original.

“Me, Myself & I” wonderfully condenses 50 years of history into 30 minutes each episode

The basic premise of this show is unique and unconventional, and rarely – if ever – attempted by a 30-minute primetime sitcom: it shows three different episodes in the life of a single character (Jack Riley), showing how events and decisions have reverberated throughout 50 years of Jack Riley’s life.

These three events are (1) moving from Chicago to Los Angeles at the age of 14 and then falling in love with a young girl (2) divorcing with his wife at the age of 40 and moving from his house to a two-car garage and (3) retiring at the age of 65 in the year 2042 and meeting (again) the love of his life, this time 50 years older.

You can immediately see how this is a fantastic comedic concept – especially when you have Bobby Moynihan playing the 40-year-old Alex Riley and John Larroquette playing the 65-year-old Alex Riley. Once you get over your immediate question of how Bobby Moynihan (a bit of a slob) ever turned into the more refined, silver-haired John Larroquette, you’ll immediately be won over by the show’s comedic pacing and timing.

Unlike TV dramas that focus on continuous character development, “Me, Myself & I” is more of a traditional sitcom – so it has to condense 3 different storylines (14-year-old Alex Riley, 40-year-old Alex Riley, 65-year-old Alex Riley) into a very tight 30-minute episode. But it’s done so well that you’ll be amazed at how everything ties together at the very end.

Here’s just one example of how a single episode is able to condense 50 years into 30 minutes: young Alex Riley moves to a new city and falls in love with a beautiful young girl named Nori. He invites her to the high school dance, and then blows his “big moment” when he accidentally chokes on a mint while trying to kiss her at a school dance. 50 years later, he mentions to a beautiful woman how “a mint cost me the love of my life 50 years ago,” only to look down at her nametag and see that she’s the same Nori he knew as a kid!

“Me, Myself & I” is about the little chuckle, not the big belly laugh

So just how funny is “Me, Myself & I”? Most critics have correctly pointed out that this sitcom is not about generating a lot of guffaws and belly laughs – it’s really about a lot of little laughs adding up to one giant comedic premise.

For example, it turns out that Alex Riley has always been an aspiring inventor, ever since he was a teenager. So there are a lot of laughs about all of his ill-fated or crazy inventions.

In one scene, he’s trying to pitch his “Switchfork” (a combination of chopsticks and a fork for eating sushi) concept to a room of Japanese business executives. He thinks that he’s winning them over, but then we see the subtitles of what the men are actually saying in Japanese, “This man has just brought dishonor upon this whole room.”

“Me, Myself & I” is a new kind of episodic comedy

In most sitcoms, there’s the “one funny situation of the week” and then some resolution of that issue following a lot of laughs. 30 minutes later, this situation has been resolved. But we may never see any of the supporting characters every again. Some critics have referred to this as the “shenanigans of the week” approach to comedy. It helps to keep every sitcom very light, meaning you don’t have to invest a lot into every show.

But “Me, Myself & I” takes a new, more refreshing approach. It’s all about serial storytelling and showing how different characters and events intersect over time. Take the title of the show, for example. That tells you all you need to know – it shows how the “me” of the year 1991 interacts with the “myself” of the year 2017, who in turn interacts with the “I” of the year 2042. In short, time proves to be a new kind of comedic element. Time changes how we view events, and how events affect us.

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“Me, Myself & I” is as empowering as it is funny

One core idea at the center of this very entertaining new comedy is that any story is not defined by what happens to you, it is defined by how you deal with it. Thus, it is too easy to go through life, complaining about all the bad things that happen to you – the boss who treats you badly, the drivers on the road who act like idiots, or the loud neighbor who keeps you up at night.

But “Me, Myself & I” doesn’t fall into this trap – it tells viewers that you have to go out there and change the story. In that way, you can view this new CBS comedy as being very empowering. You can’t let a single decision or action impact the narrative arc of your own life.

“Me, Myself & I” is a new kind of romantic comedy

Romantic success and failure is one thematic strand that ties together all three periods of Alex’s life. It is his budding relationship with Nori that is one failure. Another failure is his divorce with his wife. But there are also the successes – like the fact that he might actually get back together with Nori (now known as “Eleanor”) after all these years. But will an approach that worked 50 years ago still work in the year 2042?

As a result, from what we’ve seen already, “Me, Myself & I” is a fantastic new comedy from CBS. If you’re looking for a fun new show to watch on Monday nights, this is one great option that will have you laughing each week.

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