It's not every day that a TV network allows a comedy to directly mock, however lovingly, some of their greatest hits. But as Netflix as proved time and again, they're no ordinary TV network. (For starters, they're not even, you know, a network.)
That's exactly the case with their newest offering, the half-hour true-crime satire American Vandal, which expertly apes the style of obsessive and obsession-worthy docu-series made popular by the streaming giant. Think Making a Murderer and The Keepers. Only this time around, the crime is a very phallic bit of vandalism in a high school's staff parking lot, the accused is a doofus burnout of a high school senior, the documentarian is an sophomore A/V club nerd, and the whole thing is completely fake. And very, very funny.
"I was doing laundry and it takes me about an hour and 20 minutes to fold my clothes. It's a real pain-in-the-ass process. And because it takes so long, everyone's talking about Making a Murderer, I put something on, put that on. And it just dawned on me now that this was a craze," executive producer Daniel Perrault, who co-created the series with fellow EP Tony Yacenda, explained to E! News at the show's premiere on Thursday, Sept. 14. "I knew about Serial, I knew about The Jinx, and by the time Making a Murderer had come about, it had really become apparent that this was a huge thing."
So how did he find the courage to step into a meeting room at Netflix HQ and pitch the streaming service on a satire that would tackle the self-seriousness of their own hits? "Obviously, Netflix was a good destination because they had become so known for these things," he told us. "Personally, me, when I pitch, I was so dead-serious about what we were talking about because the moment that you call dicks funny, it actually becomes less funny. So when we're pitching it, we're pitching it as if it's a real crime. As if this actually happened and it's as important as a murder—which it's not. But when you pitch it, it comes out a little funnier that way."
As showrunner Dan Lagana explained it, the streaming service would probably let you make fun of just about anything as long as the strong concept is there. "Netflix is so game to do anything. They're so supportive of their creators and their showrunners. If you come in with a strong idea and a lot of passion and know the story that you want to tell, they're going to support it," he said. "So we could've come in making fun of anything, and if you have the right ensemble around you and you have the right passion, I think they're going to let you tell the story you want to tell."
Over the course of the show's eight episodes, viewers will watch as Hanover High School sophomore Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) attempts to get to the bottom of who really vandalized 27 of the faculty's vehicles with crude paintings of penises. Was it really prime suspect Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro) or was the whole thing part of a vast conspiracy to take the guy down? As Peter follows the case down the rabbit hole, you'll be kept guessing. And when you remember the whole thing is about penis paintings, you'll be kept laughing, as well.
For the show's stars, developing their characters for the improv-heavy shoot was unlike anything they'd ever done. "It was a very unique experience from anything I've done just because of the way we went about the whole thing, but the notes the whole time were we want to make it feel as real as possible," Tatro told us. "We're not going for comedy, we're going for the realness of the situation, which brings out the comedy. The juxtaposition of everything is what makes it funny."
"A lot of it was improv, and so, since I'm the investigator, there were a lot of details and facts I had to know," Alvarez added. "And I really committed myself to having this encyclopedic knowledge because when we did our improv takes, I was able to pull from different scenes and different things. Honestly, it was one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life."
For more from the stars, including how Alvarez got his Serial-style narration down so perfectly, be sure to check out the video above!
American Vandal is now streaming globally on Netflix.