×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘American Vandal’ Creators on ‘Love’ of True Crime Docs and Going Beyond Dick Jokes

With the launch of “American Vandal” on Netflix in September, the dicks that sprang from the minds of series creators Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda were on the lips of America for weeks.

The eight-episode mockumentary series explores the aftermath of an act of vandalism at a California high school in which penises were spray-painted on over two dozen faculty cars. The blame eventually falls on senior Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), who is promptly expelled and faces felony charges for the crime. But a fellow student and aspiring documentarian decides to give the evidence another look, discovering deep — and often hilarious — secrets that shake the school to its core.

What might have been written off as a one-note punchline — “Who drew the dicks?” — proved detractors wrong. The show — produced by Funny or Die, 3 Arts Entertainment, and CBS Television Studios — not only developed a massive fan base but was also ranked as one of the top shows of 2017 along with major awards contenders like “Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by many major publications, including Variety.

“It’s really a dream come true,” Joe Farrell, vice president of development for Funny or Die, told Variety. “We didn’t make this with any kind of thought that it would get this sort of reaction. We really were keeping our creators in a bubble where they were making the show they wanted to make.”

It’s not hard to see why the show exploded onto the pop culture landscape. The series perfectly captured the aesthetic of the true crime documentary genre seen in hits like “Making a Murderer” and “The Jinx,” but also seamlessly blended humor with an engaging mystery.

Perrault and Yacenda used those real true crime documentaries as a template for “American Vandal.” “We never wanted to go out and make fun of true crime documentaries, because we genuinely love them,” Yacenda said, who along with Perrault cut his teeth making mockumentaries about movies like “Space Jam” and “Rocky IV.” “So we thought, ‘If we use all the tools and conventions that these documentarians are using, could you get someone to care about dicks?’ That’s the genesis of this show.”

It was also crucial to both that, even though the show was based on a joke, that it play out seriously.

“A lot of funny things happened on set and the guys said, ‘This can’t veer into parody or spoof. We have to play this as straight as possible,”‘ Farrell said. “I think we all took a little convincing, but they were really firm on that.”

Both men also said they were very aware that they would have to go deeper than the obvious if the show was going to endure for eight episodes and beyond.

“We didn’t want to create a show that was just a dick joke,” Perrault said. “If you didn’t root for Dylan or love his character, it wasn’t going to be a successful show on dick jokes alone.”

Dylan did in fact prove to be incredibly sympathetic, with Tatro’s performance serving as one of the cornerstones of the show. As the evidence against him unravels, the sting of injustice becomes more and more pronounced — raising the question of whether Dylan was born a bad seed or was he made one by a system that left him behind long ago?

It is that very question that lies at the heart of the ending of “American Vandal.” Where most would have expected the show to end on a silly note, it once again defies expectations by ending with Dylan, having been cleared of any wrongdoing, being caught on camera vandalizing the driveway of a teacher — the same teacher who testified against him at his school board hearing, the same teacher he thought he was going to get revenge on when he returned to school. So he gives in.

With season two now in the works, the creators say they’re not concerning themselves with topping what they did in Season 1.

“All you can do is make stuff that makes us laugh,” Yacenda said. “It’s kind of a big ask to make people care about who drew the dicks for four episodes. And we weren’t 100 percent sure people would do it. But it made us laugh, and it seems to be a wide audience of people that it resonated with.”

More TV

  • Longtime '60 Minutes' Producer Alan Weisman

    Longtime '60 Minutes' Producer Alan Weisman Dies at 68

    Alan Weisman, a longtime producer for “60 Minutes” known for his work with Morley Safer, died Thursday at his home in New Jersey of natural causes. He was 68. Weisman produced some of Safer’s most memorable “60 Minutes” segments, including the 1984 profile of Jackie Gleason and the 1989 jailhouse interview that brought national attention [...]

  • Khloe KardashianKhloe Kardashian, Emma Grede and

    Khloe Kardashian To 'Bachelor' Creator: 'Stop Or You Will Be Hearing From My Lawyers'

    UPDATE: Khloe Kardashian slams “Bachelor” creator Mike Fleiss’ claims she could be the next “Bachelorette.” And her sister Kim Kardashian West has her back. I’m not fucking clickbait right now. Stop or you will be hearing from my lawyers. How insensitive!! https://t.co/vTKi83nLUJ — Khloé (@khloekardashian) February 24, 2019 The time has come to choose a [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Whiskey Tango Cavalier

    TV Review: 'Whiskey Cavalier'

    The crux of “Whiskey Cavalier” can be found right in its protagonist’s name. “Will Chase” is a purposefully ridiculous wink of a name that tries to be both debonair and very silly all at once, just like the FBI agent (played by Scott Foley) to which it belongs. This isn’t a regular spy drama, “Whiskey [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Malik Yoba to Reprise Role in 'New York Undercover' Reboot at ABC

    Malik Yoba, who starred as Detective J.C. Williams in the 90s show “New York Undercover,” is set to reprise the role in the ABC reboot, sources tell Variety. Picking up 20 years after the end of the original series, “New York Undercover” will follow detectives Nat Gilmore and Melissa Ortiz as they investigate the city’s [...]

  • Chris Burrous dead KTLA anchor

    KTLA Anchor Chris Burrous' Cause of Death Released

    An investigative report on KTLA anchor Chris Burrous has determined that his cause of death was attributed to methamphetamine toxicity, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Burrous, 43, was found unconscious at a motel in Glendale, Calif on December 27, and later died at the hospital. The death has been ruled as accidental. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content