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Series / American Vandal

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Who drew the dicks?

Peter Maldonado: I'm making a documentary about Dylan's case. Kind of like Serial.
Lawyer: That's a terrible idea.

American Vandal is a 2017 Netflix original Mockumentary series parodying True Crime docuseries, except revolving around high school pranks.

The first season focuses on a prank that involves somebody sneaking into Hanover High School in Oceanside, CA and spray-painting penises on the 27 cars of the school's faculty. Senior class clown Dylan Maxwell is accused of the crime and subsequently expelled. However, documentary filmmaker Peter Maldonado believes there is more to the story. Together with his best friend Sam Ecklund, he creates the documentary series American Vandal to investigate the case and prove Dylan's innocence. But along the way, they discover many more secrets about the school than they expected.

A second season was released on September 14th, 2018, this time Peter and Sam head to a private school in Washington to hunt down and capture the Turd Burglar, a person who contaminated the school's drinks to cause everyone to have a massive diarrhea attack and is threatening to strike again.

Note: Spoilers for both seasons are listed across the series pages, some marked, others not. Even just the tropes that appear will spoil both series.

This show provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Of true crime docs like Serial or Netflix's own Making A Murderer.
  • American Title
  • An Aesop: The entire series is one about the duty of responsibility and mindfulness of consequences when making documentaries, especially true crime documentaries. After the documentary goes viral in-universe, fans bombard the Jansen family with demands to release the "Keifer Sutherland tape" to the point of harassment and likely harassed the students and faculty they believed were the real culprit as well. Peter ends up being shunned by several of his peers for destroying several students' reputations and even gets one of the teachers fired when he recklessly adds deeper secrets and private conversations to the documentary that were very loosely and circumstantially tied to the events of the crime at best. Sam on the other hand allows his blatant dislike of one of the students to get the better of him and actively attacks his character and accuses him of various wrongdoings including the actual crime at one point. While they get better in the second season their general inexperience still leads to them warning the true criminal that they figured out their identity, leading to him releasing every bit of extremely compromising dirt he managed to gather over the year to the public.
    • Season 1:
      • High school is only four years of your life, and defining people based on who they were in high school is not healthy for anyone, whether you be prom royalty or a dropout. Asking yourself who you are during this crucial developmental period is a bad idea, as your identity as a person hasn't solidified yet.
      • Treating young people like they are not going to amount to anything more than a petty criminal is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. If all they know is that no matter what they do, they'll be seen as a troublemaker or loser, then they'll quickly internalize that there is little point to rising above those assumptions and will behave accordingly.
    • Season 2:
      • The internet has exacerbated the process of creating one's own public persona by allowing anyone to curate their own story on social media. While hiding behind a guise can lead to disingenuous or even deceitful or malicious behavior, it's still a valid way to figure out one's own identity, and it's an important skill to retain as an adult.
  • Bathos: Perhaps the main source of comedy. The investigation of these completely juvenile acts are played 100% seriously.
  • Double Entendre / Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode title is a Double Entendre for the medium of the crime: penises and sex in Season 1; feces in Season 2.
  • Driving Question: Who actually committed the season's central crime?
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Sam gets a few of these by noticing details Peter overlooks.
  • Kid Detective: Peter and Sam.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The opening credits have the names of characters in the series listed as producers, as if this were an actual true-crime drama. The actual credits are at the end.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Peter and Sam sometimes re-consult old footage to find stuff as they get new pieces of information. The footage is often shown as it was the first time, but with focus on something Peter and Sam, and by extension the audience, missed the first time.
  • Propping Up Their Patsy: Zig-zagged in both seasons.
    • In season 1, Christa is one of Dylan's most outspoken supporters, starting a campaign on GoFundMe and selling "Free Dylan" t-shirts to raise funds for his legal defense. She even publicly announces that it was her (though that turns into an I Am Spartacus moment where everyone says it's them). It's suggested that she could be the vandal, though at other times it's treated like a Red Herring. In the end it's implied that she was the true vandal.
      Peter: The Free Dylan t-shirts. The GoFundMe campaign. Where those protests of passion for Christa, or an attempt to clear her guilty conscience?
    • Grayson Wentz, a former St. Bernadine student who was expelled over a minor prank, is interviewed early on in season 2. He believes Kevin McClain is just the school administration's scapegoat for the pranks, and implies that the culprit is an athlete who the school is covering up to save face. Both cases are true. Grayson is the mastermind behind it all, and manipulated both Kevin and star basketball player DeMarcus Tillman into carrying out individual pranks.
  • Serious Business: Part of the series appeal is that it takes everything completely seriously — the dicks, the poop, whether Alex got a handjob from Sara, off-campus lunches, the use of periods after emojis or the number of Ys in the word "hey" — anything and everything is treated as an important factor in the case.
  • Teen Drama: Under the comedic true crime documentary styling, season 1 is a teen drama about the kids at Hanover High. Season 2 is far less of a teen drama, instead it is far more realistic in how it handles the inter-personal drama of the kids involved at the fancy Catholic school.
  • Trashy True Crime: Peter and Sam have good intentions, as does Chloe in Season 2 (exonerating the innocent). However, their documentary exploits its subjects (for which Mackenzie viciously calls them out), humiliating them and revealing their secrets. Although they exonerate Dylan, he becomes a graffiti artist and vandal at the end of Season 1.

    Season 1 
  • All for Nothing: The finale paints the entire season as this. From the first episode, the question was whether or not Dylan was innocent, and blamed just because of his reputation. After trial and tribulation, and weeks upon weeks of investigating, it then turns out that yes, he was innocent. So he no longer has to pay the price for a crime he didn't commit. But the way things end up playing out, he still ends up not getting into his dream college regardless. He loses his cheating girlfriend. In the end, Dylan comes to the sad realization that practically everyone he knows—adult and student alike—think he's a troublemaker who will never amount to anything. So he spray-paints a dick on Ms. Shapiro's driveway for real and has to serve prison time. And just on top of that, the true vandal is never confirmed, just implied.
  • Alpha Bitch: Subverted with Sara. Early interviews paint a picture of her as this, but she's later revealed to be a fairly normal girl who doesn't care about popularity (e.g. her hooking with Pat Micklewaite of all people).
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • Is Peter's final theory, that Christa and her boyfriend Van spray-painted the dicks, accurate? It all adds up, and Christa's tense final interview heavily implies it. But—as Peter notes—he's been down this road before, with seemingly rock-solid, all-but-proven theories ultimately disproved. His suspicions are never confirmed.
    • It's never confirmed one way or another just how much of a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing Ms. Shapiro really is. She may or may not have coerced a student to accuse another student she disliked of cheating. She may or may not have been playing good cop to the vice principal's bad cop to coax someone into giving information about the vandal. It's not clear whether her mischaracterization of her nail-damaged tire as being "slashed" is a deliberate falsehood or whether she simply assumes Dylan did it, although her treatment of his after his exoneration is pretty indefensibly callous.
    • Assuming that it was Christa that was the vandal: after a player pummels her at football tryouts, Coach Rafferty apparently said something bad enough to completely push her over the edge and drive her, a straight-A Honor student, to draw the dicks. What exactly he said is never revealed. All that's known is that it was bad enough for her to make a report.
  • Answer Cut: Dylan has a job working for Postmates (where he delivers random items people order, like food or diapers). Sometimes, though, he eats customers' food (e.g. enough fries not to be noticeable). One of the defenses in his case is that he's too dumb to delete the security footage that was wiped. Peter then brings up to the audience that Dylan has a YouTube channel and does have basic knowledge of uploading videos.
    Peter: So, is he really as dumb as he lets on?
    Customer Dylan is delivering food to: Did you eat the fries?
    Dylan: [Beat] Yeah.
    Peter: [talking to the audience again] Personally, I think he is.
  • Asshole Victim: Dylan is railroaded and expelled for a crime he didn't commit, and he's the spark for the aesop about stereotyping people described above. However, he really is kind of an unlikable prick, someone who tends to treat people like crap and engage in childish, mean-spirited pranks like "toddler farting" and "nun humping." And he really did torture Mrs. Shapiro for years.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Mackenzie's parents' divorce hit her really hard, so anything having to do with them will set her off.
    • Mackenzie is also this for Dylan. He won't hear a bad word about her.
  • Big Bad: The Dick Drawer. And, depending on your interpretation, Mrs. Shapiro.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dylan is exonerated of drawing the dicks on the teachers' cars, but he loses his girlfriend for the last time, has no college prospects, and he resigns himself to being the idiot that everyone sees him as. It culminates in him drawing a dick on Shapiro's driveway for real, and thus getting arrested. It is also never confirmed who really drew the dicks, but if it really is Christa, she receives no punishment for it. Also, Peter's documentary alienates him from some of the students whose secrets have been exposed as a result. On the upside, Sam and Gabi are on better terms.
  • Book Dumb: Dylan admits that he is this, even explicitly saying he isn't "book smart". He also notes that he isn't really street smart either.
    Dylan: I'm not, like, book smart or fucking street smart or whatever, but, like, I'm not dumb.
  • Bookends: Season 1 begins and ends with footage of Peter asking Dylan who he is.
    Dylan: I'm... I don't know man. I'm just Dylan. That's a stupid question.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mr. Kraz and a few others seem to think this is the case with Ms. Shapiro; Christa even states that one of her friends was coerced into saying a student Shapiro didn't like cheated off of her.
  • Canada, Eh?: Ming, considered by everyone to be the nicest kid in school, is from Toronto.
  • Cassandra Truth: Christa starts the I Am Spartacus moment by saying she drew the dicks. The Season 1 finale heavily implies that she, along with her boyfriend, had a major part in drawing the dicks.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Van Delorey was mentioned a few times in the second episode as the guy Sara Pearson had the hots for, but passed her up for Christa Carlyle. However in the last episode, its theorized that he may have been the one to draw the dicks.
  • Chekhov's Party: Nana's Party. Initially simply where Alex claimed (falsely) to have had eleven beers, it was actually where the spray paints had come from that drew the dicks, narrowing it down to someone who had been in attendance there.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Inverted Trope. Christa's alibi was that she was getting her CPR and First Aid certificate. However, when Ming passes out at the post-prom party, she panics and asks if anyone knows CPR.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: One-sided example, Sam and Gabi grew up together and have become very close friends, but Sam has an obvious crush on her.
  • Consummate Liar: Alex Trimboli is constantly lying in order to get popular — claiming to get a handjob from Sara Pearson, saying he was the drunkest person at Nana's Party, and giving info about the dick drawing in order to bring back off-campus lunches for seniors. In the final episode of Season 1, it's revealed that he may have actually seen the real vandal and just assumed it was Dylan because the two looked similar.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Dylan's case had circumstantial evidence at best plus one unreliable eye witness, but several teachers and other students saw him as a failure from the word "go" and barely gave him a chance to defend himself. To be fair, Dylan admits that as a student he's apathetic at best, and constantly disrupting class for stupid jokes that aren't even funny... just like the dick drawing is seen to be.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Not "conviction", but strong evidence, as Christa claims to have gotten CPR training during the time of the vandalism. However, she freaks out when Ming passes out from intoxication at a party and asks if anyone knows CPR. This strongly implies that her alibi is fake, and therefore had the opportunity to commit the crime, even if her leg cast meant she needed an accomplice.
  • Cool Teacher: Mr. Kraz is a deconstruction. He's "cool" because he's immature. His edgy and irreverent comments get him fired from his teacher's position by the mid-point of the first season, and he's unemployed for the remainder.
  • Country Matters: Dylan's mom calls Mrs. Shapiro a "See You Next Tuesday."
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Mackenzie spends the entire season withholding a video that proved Dylan was at her house during the vandalism because it showed evidence of her cheating on him.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Sara manages to revive Ming with this when he passes out at party. It works and he wakes up none the worse for wear, but it's not really clear what he passed out from and how exactly the CPR worked.
  • Creepy Gym Coach: The coach, Mr Rafferty, appears to be extremely genial and popular, but it's hinted at that he's abused his position from time to time; Mr. Kraz claims that he "has roofied people" (although Kraz has already been established as a textbook Unreliable Expositor) and Peter learns that there's a mention on his file of showing "inappropriate conduct with a student". And there's whatever he said to Christa after knocking her down and injuring her, but it's never explicitly confirmed how sinister he is.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: After Dylan returns to school, Ms. Shapiro's weak apology for accusing him and dismissal of his suffering drives him to vandalize her driveway.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Sam gets a few of these by noticing details Peter overlooks.
    • After Peter realizes that the spray paint can came from Nana's Party, Sam is the one who notices the splatter. This leads to strong evidence that Shapiro wasn't the target—and that either Vice Principal Keene, Mr. Maeda or Coach Rafferty was. Investigating students with a motive against Coach Rafferty not only leads to the reveal of Mackenzie's cheating—which allows the video footage of Dylan's alibi to be revealed—but begins Peter and Sam's re-investigation of Christa.
    • During the house party in the final episode of Season 1. When Ming passes out from drinking, Christa Carlyle anxiously asks if anyone knows CPR. When she claimed her alibi was completing her training for CPR. After hearing this, Sam realizes that the alibi is false.
  • Exact Words: Christa Carlyle ends her interview in the final episode of Season 1 by denying that she drew the dicks. According to Peter's theory, she really didn't draw them: her boyfriend Van drew the dicks while Christa erased the footage.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple: In-universe, Sam and Gabi have a lot of fans among Sam and Peter's viewers.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Christa Carlyle can be seen holding the spray can near the end of the party video.
  • Gamer Chick: Mackenzie is one with a pretty successful Twitch channel.
  • Gonk: Pat Micklewaite, which is why Peter is so frustrated by him being so popular despite being an apparent loser like he is. Pat gets invited to parties and is on multiple girls' hook-up lists, but Peter is barely acknowledged.
  • The Ghost: Pat Micklewaite is discussed a number of times in the first season, but he's only seen via his yearbook picture, as one of the only two members of "Strategy Club" (the other being Chrysta), and in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot at a party. Otherwise he is never interviewed, and we never hear him speak.
  • Hidden Depths: Sara Pearson, whose characterization up until that point is mostly just that she's very attractive and has a hookup list, actually knows CPR, something that all-round honor student Christa Carlyle doesn't manage.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Episode 4 of Season 1 ends with Mr. Janson's daughter contacting Peter about the voicemail tape that could exonerate Dylan. In episode 5, she destroys the tape in front of Peter's face out of spite for bringing her and her father unnecessary harassment.
    • In the Season 1 finale: Things are looking well for Dylan now that he's been proven innocent and he talks highly about bettering himself but slowly as the episode progresses he becomes less and less happy about his circumstances. Ms. Shapiro apologized for the accusation but stood by how she felt about his treatment to her, the College he thought he had lost for the accusations still did not accept him, Mackenzie finally decides to permanently end their relationship and when he finally sees the Documentary everyone has given him support for at the party he realizes that before it went viral nobody even cared about if he did it or not and found him to be a loser for how he already was.
  • Hot for Teacher: A few students have crushes on Coach Rafferty.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The dick-drawer. They were clever enough to erase the security footage, and carry out the deed on a student-free day when all the teachers would be occupied in meetings. Alex Trimboli said that the vandal was wearing a hoodie — why didn't they wear the hood up, in case someone was looking out a window? Alex says himself that he couldn't have identified the vandal as Dylan (mistakenly or otherwise) if the hood had been up.
    • Mackenzie has time-stamped video evidence of Dylan's alibi, but doesn't use it because it reveals that she's cheating on him. It never occurs to her to edit the footage so it starts when she's walking to the bedroom door? All she needs is twenty seconds of time-stamped footage that clearly identifies her, Dylan, and her bedroom as the location. If she didn't already have the skills to edit the footage (unlikely), about ten minutes of Googling would have given her several youtube instruction videos, and where to find free software she could use to do so. If someone asks her why she's topless from the back? She's already telling Dylan she was changing - just say that she spilled her between-rounds drink on her top, and she was about to change out of view of the camera. Or even simply that it's none of their business.
  • I Am Spartacus: During an assembly, Christa and Gabi lead a cry of "I drew the dicks!" among the students.
  • Impostor Forgot One Detail: One of the most important details regarding the crime is that someone tampered with the security footage. Peter discovers that Dylan is utterly Hopeless with Tech beyond the regular teen knowledge of how to use a smartphone. Justified because the real culprit wasn't trying to get Dylan blamed specifically.
  • In Medias Res: The in-universe documentary American Vandal starts well after the actual vandalism incident, to the point where Dylan has already had the hearing with the school board, been expelled and escorted off the school property. Early episodes are also edited and released before the end of the season, so that assumptions and opinions made in early episodes don't always pan out by the end.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: After Sam and Peter have been banned from shooting on school grounds, Peter attempts to surreptitiously record an interview with Coach Rafferty by putting his cell phone in his breast pocket with the camera peeking over the top of the pocket. Sam claims it looks obvious and everyone will notice, while Peter says it'll be fine. It takes Coach Rafferty less than five seconds to notice Peter's phone and point out that he's being recorded. He's perfectly fine with it and is more than happy to do the interview while being recorded, but he does find the lame deception pretty funny. They later try the same tactic with Vice Principal Keene. He's slower on the uptake, but much less forgiving once he does realize he's being recorded. The boys seem to have learned their lesson in the second season and record St. Bernardine teacher Mrs. Wexler with an audio-only bug that doesn't get noticed.
  • Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!:
    • Deconstructed realistically. After the show goes viral, a lot of the footage starts having serious consequences for everyone. The documentary as a whole puts a lot of people's personal lives out in the open, and not everyone is happy with Peter about that.
      • Sara Pearson feels utterly humiliated by the digging they do into her sexual history while trying to establish if Alex Trimboli is a credible witness.
      • Mr. Kraz is fired for, among other things, stating that one of his underage students is hot on-camera and accusing Rafferty of drugging women.
      • Mr. Janson and his daughter are harassed by fans of the show for not giving up the answering machine tape. In turn, she contacts Peter and destroys the tape in front of his face to make it clear how cruel the situation has become.
    • When considering Mackenzie as a possible suspect, her alibi is suggested to be in revenge for Dylan posting an unflattering GIF to social media of her making an "ugly face" while trying to shotgun a beer. The theory is quickly discarded.
  • Instant Web Hit:
    • By the fifth episode of Season 1, Peter and Sam have to deal with the fact that American Vandal has gained online attention (by, in-universe, having their episodes of the documentary posted on Vimeo, shared across social media) and that people are submitting theories about who the vandal is. In the opening of Season 2, Peter reveals that the viral explosion of the Vimeo documentary led to Netflix picking up the documentary, and offering a second season and a full production crew (along with adding more production value to the first season for its appearance on Netflix.) Peter and Sam end up selecting St. Bernardine out of hundreds of email requests for the American Vandal team to cover crimes ranging from total hoaxes to an actual murder.
    • Subverted with the Wayback Boys. They only gain a few hundred more subscribers from the attention, but they still think it means they're viral stars.
  • Insists on Being Suspected: When Peter insists on being suspected as the one who drew the dicks. The problems come for him and his best friend, Sam, when he insists on treating Sam like a suspect, too, and while both are genuinely innocent, Sam takes issue to how Peter makes him look like a creepy stalker.
  • Internet Stalking: The fictional investigative documentarians go through Snapchats, instant messages, Facebook profiles, stories and more to find clues.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The Hanover High teachers' hard-line behavior about the vandalism is justified. Not only is there considerable humiliation for all the teachers — how long did they have to drive around in those cars until their mechanic had a free slot, or the insurance company paid up for a loan car? The property damage was estimated to be $100,000, for 27 cars. That averages out to about $3,700 per car. Given that teacher's salaries are notoriously low, car paint colors can be tricky and expensive to match, and that insurance companies are notorious for dragging their feet about paying out or even denying claims on flimsy excuses (like 'vandalism is not covered by your policy'), the teachers might very well have lost up to a month's salary paying to get their cars fixed.
  • Karma Houdini: Christa and Van Delorey, if they drew the dicks.
  • Kavorka Man: Peter and Sam are constantly amazed that the goofy-looking Pat Micklewaite has hooked up with a number of attractive girls.
  • Kick the Dog: Given, he "terrorized" her and her classroom for years beforehand, but Ms. Shapiro does this to Dylan after his innocence is proven. She does apologize for falsely accusing him... then adds that, even so, she still thinks Dylan is a lost cause and everything else she said about him was true.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The show goes viral around the fifth episode of Season 1, and Peter devotes a segment to discussing theories that members of the audience have about the case.
  • Left Hanging:
    • While we find out if Dylan was the vandal or not, we do not find out with any certainty who actually did it, only an extremely strong suspicion that Christa did it. We also don't find out exactly what Coach Rafferty did that made Christa angry at him.
    • On the topic of Coach Rafferty, it's not made clear what he said to Crista on the field.
  • Left It In:
    • In Season 1, Peter's sole devotion to telling the truth means he leaves in plenty of damning clips of people, including those close to him, even after they beg him to cut it out. Peter's In-Universe decision to release episodes before having completed the investigation and documentary means Peter and Sam unknowingly leave in red herrings and events that aren't relevant to the eventual truth of the matter but still have an impact on the rest of their documentary.
    • That extends to Peter and Sam themselves. As they are both part of the Morning Show Nine 9, they examine each other about being the vandal. Sam doesn't take it very seriously when investigating Peter, but after Peter shows the investigation he conducted on Sam, it includes Peter seriously exposing Sam's hopeless crush on Gabi as potential motive, Sam flips out and leaves. Peter leaves both the investigation on Sam and the reaction to it in the documentary. Sam's reaction also includes the facts that Peter is in love with a girl named Ashley Hanson and that he jerks off to American Apparel catalogs.
    • Their attempt to discredit Alex Trimboli by proving he lied about hooking up with Sara Pearson at the lake. That aspect of the investigation is resolved when Peter and Sam get their hands on Sara's private "hook up list". In addition to making it public, which hurts Sara for no legitimate reason, the list also happens to prove that Gabbi's boyfriend cheated on her with Sara at the lake, which hurts Sam and Gabi's friendship. The entire investigation thread regarding Sara and Alex results in absolutely no useful evidence for or against Dylan, or towards the actual vandal.
  • Loved by All: Ming Zhang, a foreign exchange student notorious in the school for just being a Nice Guy in general. When discussing the alibis for the members of the news team (who had access to the security footage), Ming is ruled out as a suspect simply because "Dude, it's Ming."
  • Mama Bear: When Peter's parents go to the school principal to protest his suspension, Peter confidently states, "My mom is a straight savage." He's reinstated the very next day.
  • Manipulative Editing: Peter acknowledges that he and Sam may be accused of this in Season 1, which results in him accidentally-on-purpose indulging in this trope to make Sam look like a Stalker with a Crush towards Gabi. Sam is furious.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • By the end of the series, Peter and Sam theorize that Van Delorey drew the dicks while Christa deleted the tapes. Van Delorey sounds a lot like "Vandalery".
    • It's probably not a coincidence that Christa's last name, Carlyle, has both the word car in itnote , but also a word that sounds like lie.note 
    • In this recap it is taken even further: points out that Christa's last name, when taken with Van's full name and the first part of his last name spell out "CAR VAN-DEL". Also includes a reddit theory which point outs out their names are anagrams for "Car Vandal is Clearly End Theory," and "Clearly is Car Vandal. End Theory."
  • Mood Whiplash: Peter makes segments about each person with access to the deleted security footage, their motives for framing Dylan, and their alibis. In an attempt to be impartial he has Sam make a segment about Peter as a suspect. Sam's segment is satirical and suggests Peter is obsessed with cocks and movies, so staged the vandalism so he could make a movie about cocks.
  • Nerd Glasses: Peter and Ming both have them.
  • Nice Guy: Ming Zhang, an exchange student who's part of the Morning Show Nine, who seems to be one of the kindest students in school. When building a case against him, Sam dismisses it with three words:
    Sam: Dude. It's Ming.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • The protest during the assembly in the sixth episode Season 1 is well-intended, but it whips things into such a frenzy that Vice Principal Keene bans American Vandal from being filmed or viewed on campus.
    • Peter's further attempt to gather information shortly after also backfires spectacularly when his phone is discovered recording Keene as they talked which had him and Sam Suspended as a result.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Mackenzie has an acceptance letter from a college that's only referred to as "Boulder." This is presumably a reference to the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, but the show is very careful to never say that and only calls it "Boulder."
  • Noodle Incident: Some of Dylan's detention slips from Shapiro are shown, where the offenses listed include "making whale noises" and "faking diabetes." The specifics of these events are not addressed or elaborated upon any further.
  • Painting the Fourth Wall: When Dylan and his parents are consulting their lawyer over the phone and Peter chimes in, he explains his presence:
    Peter: I'm making a documentary about Dylan's case. Kind of like Serial?
    Lawyer: That's a terrible idea.
  • Paranoia Gambit: Subverted. When Dylan confronts Alex for lying about seeing him draw the dicks, he walks off making him think this trope is going to be in effect... then promptly returns a moment later to enact the "revenge" (ruining his pizza slice and shaking up his soda).
  • The Promposal: Brandon gives one to Gabi at Nana's Party. He shoves her in a pool, then gives her a towel with "prom?" written on it.
  • Reaction Shot: In the penultimate episode of Season 1, we see Dylan react when Peter shows him the video Mackenzie sent, but we don't see the video itself. The finale starts with the video, revealing that Mackenzie was cheating on Dylan and he almost caught her.
  • Really Gets Around:
    • Coach Rafferty dates a lot of moms.
    • Sara Pearson has hooked up with a lot of people, including the likes of Pat Micklewaite.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Peter is on the receiving end of a few thanks to the documentary.
    • Sara gives one to Peter in the final episode about invading her privacy, exposing her sexual history and leaving her open to slut-shaming, especially since it turns out to have nothing to do with Dylan's innocence or anyone else's guilt. Peter leaves it in the finished episode as a way of owning his irresponsible behaviour, as well as admitting in voiceover that she was absolutely right.
    • Mackenzie gives one to Peter when he accuses her of drawing the dicks with Dylan. It's a lot harder to feel sympathy for her, however, considering it's triggered by her realizing that in order to clear her name, she's going to have to reveal the Twitch footage that not only proves both her and Dylan's alibis, but that she's been cheating on him. Also exposing that she stood by and let her boyfriend of four years be expelled from school, have his reputation ruined and be left open to felony criminal charges and possible jail time or ruinous debt for his low-income family, rather than admit to it.
    Mackenzie: It's so easy for you to sit there behind that stupid camera and make accusations about people you don't even know. And look I am sorry if we ignored you before, but if this is what you're really like then I guess there's a reason everyone thought you were such a loser. And now everyone's secrets are out, throughout the entire school all because—what? You—you what? You had to make the best movie? You know what, when this is all over, so are you, okay? Because you are nobody and you're just mad about it.
    • Ms. Shapiro gives a short one to Dylan while apologizing about accusing him of drawing the dicks.
    Ms. Shapiro: ...But, let's be honest with each other Dylan, you have terrorized me for four years in and out of this classroom. And your brother, four before that. So, yes, I'm sorry I suspected you vandalized the cars; I was wrong about that. But I don't believe I was wrong about you.
  • Restrained Revenge: When Dylan confronts Alex for lying about seeing him drawing the dicks (which contributed to the expulsion), he says he'll get even one day. After a beat he destroys Alex's lunch and leaves. It's clear Alex thinks he got off easy.
  • Retcon: Despite being a supposedly amateur production uploaded to Vimeo, the first season of the show has a number of elements that would be beyond Peter and Sam's budget and abilities, including footage from drone cameras and the very professional opening credits. The second season explains that those elements were added by Netflix, who acquired the documentary for mass distribution and re-edited it.
  • Reveal Shot: Minor case early on: Dylan's brother is talking about how he used to terrorize Shapiro's class and warned Dylan not to take the class because Shapiro will have it out for him. He says Dylan didn't listen, because he's an idiot. Then a camera pan out reveals Dylan was there right next to him (facing him too) the whole time.
  • Rewatch Bonus:
    • Watch the Season 1 episode "A Limp Alibi" when Peter asks Mackenzie if there's any proof that puts Dylan at her house during the time in question. It's very quick, but she looks straight at the computer screen, swallows nervously, and makes her face absolutely blank before answering negatively.
    • If you look closely throughout the first season at the background footage as well as the many students interviewed, every student shown is taller, shorter, fatter, thinner or has a very different hairstyle than Dylan. It's why it's believable that Alex Trimboli might have been genuinely mistaken about his identification of Dylan; the only person in the case who could believably pass as Dylan from behind (Van Delorey) isn't a student at Hanover High, and Alex hasn't seen him more than one or twice in the last six months - the only time it's confirmed that Van and Alex are in the same place at the same time since Camp Miniwaka is at Nana's Party, where Van was Christa's date. Alex very probably didn't have eleven beers, but contrary to Pete and Sam's opinion he still may have gotten drunk. So Alex might not recognize Van with his new haircut.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Ms. Shapiro doesn't waste a second after her apologizing to Dylan for accusing him of drawing the dicks to point out that she may have chosen the wrong crime but her main assessment of him as a hooligan still stands.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Peter believes that this could be Mackenzie's motivation for drawing the dicks. Coach Rafferty dated her mom, ruining her parents' chance of getting back together. She in turn files a complaint against him, which is dismissed. So she trashes his office, which he cleans up before anyone finds out. So she draws the dicks. Turns out to be Right for the Wrong Reasons. Mackenzie may still be responsible for the office-trashing, given the "stick your dick somewhere else" message on his whiteboard, but Christa is likely responsible for the complaint and the dick-drawing as a continued vendetta against him for humiliating her during football tryouts. There's also a fan theory that the complaint was because Coach Rafferty sexually harassed (or worse) a student, potentially Sara Pearson, and the trashing/"stick your dick somewhere else" were a reaction to the school sweeping it under the rug, which would get Mackenzie off the hook for that as well.
  • Sad Clown: Dylan after he's exonerated and finds out what the average opinion of him is.
  • Sadist Teacher: Coach Rafferty is this to Christa, at the very least, putting her in a tackle drill when she tried out for the position of kicker on the football team in retaliation for a walkout. This may have been her motivation to draw the dicks.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Mrs. Shapiro is this to Dylan. Pat Micklewaite becomes one to Peter as he begins to find more and more evidence of him being more popular than he is.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Dylan mentions not understanding Inception.
    • Peter outright says that he's making a series like Serial when someone asks him why he's filming.
    • Kraz compares Shapiro to "the bald guy with no dick" (Varys) from Game of Thrones.
    • Dylan announces his YouTube videos with the same "My name is X, and this is Y" setup as Jackass
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: When Peter decides that both he and Sam need to investigate each other, Sam isn't very serious with Peter, while Peter takes a serious shot at Sam, making a case against him that he has a stalker-ish crush on Gabi with a motive for doing the dick drawings being an effort to shut down the Prom to prevent Gabi going with her boyfriend Brandon, who Sam immensely dislikes. Unsurprisingly, Peter exposing Sam's crush on Gabi and how much he hates her boyfriend results in Sam getting angry and quitting the documentary.
  • Smoking Gun: The Spray Paint can, which helps narrow down who, specifically, was targeted in the dick drawing attack.
  • Smurfette Principle: Brianna aka "Ganj" is the only girl in the Wayback Boys.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Christa, whose almost entire story arc is devoted to promoting various causes at the school—even if they tend to backfire on her. Played with to some degree, as she's revealed to actually have been interested in joining football as a kicker and wasn't just trying to prove a point about gender equality.
  • Spotting the Thread: Peter notices that the dicks Dylan drew on the whiteboards have a different design (ball hairs, no mushroom head) than those on the cars. It's the first piece of evidence that convinces him that Dylan may not be responsible.
  • Stacy's Mom: Sam does a whole side segment on the most attractive moms of students at Hanover High. One of them is Peter's mom, which Peter is... not pleased by.
  • Stern Teacher:
    • Mrs. Shapiro toes the line between this and Sadist Teacher, and it's really dependent on whose testimonies you believe. She may have pressured a girl into accusing another student of cheating because Shapiro didn't like him. She also might have told Keene to get rid of off-campus lunches so that when she brought them back she would be seen as the good guy. But she is also very fast to brush Dylan off because of his actions and lies to help him get expelled and only gave a half hearted apology to him after his exoneration, and she begins acting just as cold to Peter and Sam as the documentary goes on.
    • Mr. Maeda also counts, concerning his penchant for confiscating student's property for long periods of time.
  • The Stoner: Dylan and his buddies, The "Wayback Boys".
  • Strip Poker: Mackenzie exonerates Dylan and herself by revealing a time-stamped video of her apparently playing Strip Rainbow Six Siege.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Dylan falls into this attitude by the end of the series. He has no prospects for the future, and everyone's pigeonholed him into being an idiot, so he decides to fulfill that role.
  • Toilet Humor: Most of Dylan and the Wayback Boys' videos.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Alex gave a Rousing Speech during summer camp that was apparently just a Drake song with "red team" instead of the n-word.
  • Wham Line: Christa Carlyle asking if anyone knows CPR when Ming Zhang passes out at a party, which means that her alibi of getting CPR training was likely fake, and leads Peter and Sam to conclude that Christa and Van Delorey were the ones behind the dick drawings.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Many times.
    • When analyzing the motives of the Morning Show Nine, Sam makes a joke video about how Peter did it, while Peter makes a much more serious video about how Sam is trying to frame Brandon because he has a crush on Gabi. He storms out of the set, but they patch things up by next episode.
    • Peter to Dylan for lying about not knowing which car was Ms. Shapiro's.
    • Mr. Preston's daughter to Peter for causing her and her father to be harassed about the voicemail tape.
    • Gabi and Peter both to Sam, when he callously tells Gabi about Brandon's cheating in an I-told-you-so kind of way.
    • Dylan and Mackenzie to Peter for accusing Mackenzie of being the vandal.
    • Sara Pearson to Peter, for exposing the fact that her hookup list exists.
    • It's found out that Mackenzie had a video that proved Dylan was right and didn't draw the dicks this whole time, which she hid because it was also proof she cheated on Dylan. Dylan is upset about the cheating and that she had this video the whole time, but neither he or Peter calls Mackenzie out specifically for hiding the video.
    • Dylan's final act of actually spray-painting a dick on Mrs. Shapiro's driveway, resigning himself to the same person everyone else perceives him as.
  • Wild Teen Party: The party at Rachel Balducci's house, known colloquially as "Nana's Party," which occurred the weekend before the dicks. Everyone was there except for Peter and Sam, and everyone and everything got trashed. It's also the site of several important events: Brandon's promposal to Gabi, Dylan and Mackenzie's break-up, and Alex supposedly drinking eleven beers.
  • You Can Always Tell a Liar: Alex has several tells, both subtle and obvious. Whenever he's just told a lie on camera, he briefly shoots a nervous glance directly toward it. He also overuses the phrase "100%" when lying about his certainty of something.

    Season 2 
  • Actually Pretty Funny: The Turd Burglar tricks Peter in digging around in a pile of poop with chopsticks. Sam cracks a bit of a smile as he obviously finds it a bit funny.
  • All for Nothing: The Turd Burglar blackmailed people with their own salacious photos/video in order to compel them to do his crimes. When Peter lets him know the jig is up before calling the police, the Burglar releases everything he has online.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Kevin's awkward mannerisms, smug persona, and elaborately anal-retentive methods of "properly" enjoying tea can all be indicators that he is on the autism spectrum somewhere. It's actually brought up in-universe by a classmate who claims that Kevin isn't autistic. This is further supported toward the end of the season, where Kevin confesses to have constructed his quirky persona in order to cope with being ostracized. Since his peers saw him as "weird" he decided to go all in on being weird in order to convince himself that he was okay with it.
  • Big Bad: The Turd Burglar
  • Bittersweet Ending: Though Grayson is outed as the mastermind behind the Turd Burglar, Kevin is still guilty of the Brownout incident, as he was catfished by Grayson into doing it. His sentence is not commuted as a result, but his friendship with Tanner is mended, and he and Chloe are close again. DeMarcus' reputation has been severely dented and he's probably lost quite a few college offers, but the ordeal inspires him to take control of his life from Lou and his father, even starting a free basketball clinic for kids in his neighborhood, and he still gets a full ride to college in the end (in fact getting one to Villanova who had the number 1 ranked basketball team in the country that year). Though a teacher was fired and Mrs. Wexler resigned over circumstances surrounding the Turd Burglar, any additional consequences of Grayson leaking everyone's private photos, videos and conversations, outside of Grayson's sentencing, have yet to be seen, but it's insinuated that Drew Pankratz's life has been scarred forever. Also, Perry still suffers no consequences for bullying and sexually harassing Paige, and there's no indication that the over-privileged attitude towards student athletes that let Perry get away it and helped corrupt Grayson has been changed or even recognized.
  • Captain Obvious: After Jenna explains that a girl named Brooke Wheeler blackmailed her into doing the Shit Launcher prank and gave her all the Turd Burglar paraphernalia to do it, Peter asks, "So Brooke Wheeler is the Turd Burglar?" Jenna just stares at him in disbelief for a moment before saying, "Did... YEAH!"
  • Cassandra Truth: Kevin tells Peter to call off the investigation because he was in fact the Turd Burglar the whole time; Peter and Sam write it off as another coerced confession. While it wasn't the whole truth, Kevin was in fact trying to admit his very real guilt.
  • Catfishing: The Turd Burglar's MO is catfishing students using photos and videos downloaded from a broken cell phone, forcing them to participate in crimes.
  • Chekhov's Party: The skip day party that got broken up and got several people arrested. Tanner testified against Kevin because of thinking Kevin broke it up. He didn't, Lou did, trying to sabotage DeMarcus.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: It's implied but never stated openly that Kevin has a crush on Chloe.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In Season 2, Peter and Sam inadvertently receive a text from the Turd Burglar at the exact same minute that their two chief suspects are on security camera footage that they later acquire, "exonerating" both of them.
  • Everybody Did It: Played with in Season 2. While all the main suspects did do one of the pranks (Kevin, Jenna, DeMarcus, all are acting at the behest of a Big Bad, Grayson, and all except Kevin are unwilling participants.)
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": "Hot Janitor", a conventionally attractive custodian at St. Bernadine. His real name isn't even revealed when Peter and Sam interview him.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Sam gets a few of these by noticing details Peter overlooks.
    • As he and Peter review social media footage of The Brownout, he believes Kevin's contorted facial expression means he was forcing himself to poop to appear to be a victim. He's right.
    • He realizes that the calendar in the staff room of St. Bernadine's is exactly the same calendar as the one shown in one of the Turd Burglar's social media posts.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Hot Janitor": He's a janitor who is hot.
  • Expy: Squeak is a member of the school's basketball team in season 2, and is constantly made fun of by the rest of the team. Just like Squeak in Baseketball.
  • Feigning Intelligence: Throughout Season 2, people note that Kevin isn't particularly intelligent; He just says things he thinks smart people say. There are a number of times where we see him trying to be smarter than he is. He recalls describing a pop song "an ocular disaster" when he was in 6th grade, which Chloe notes she had to look up and discover that he was using the word wrong. In another scene, he says that DeMarcus' poem "makes Dr. Seuss look like..." but can't come up with the name of a "more serious" poet.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In season 2, a shot of Peter's laptop reveals chat logs of recent conversations with not only Sam, but Gabi Granger, Dylan Maxwell, and Alex Trimboli.
  • The Ghost: Whoever the cameraman is in Season 2 is never seen or discussed, unlike the first season. He might be the same kid, and he's never mentioned because he's never considered as a suspect this time.
  • Hidden Depths: "Hot Janitor", apart from his looks being so appealing as to attract the attention of even the nuns at St. Bernadine, is an accomplished botanist that grows all of his own food.
  • Hot for Teacher: One of the janitors is only known as "Hot Janitor".
  • Idiot Ball: Peter messaging the Turd Burglar that he knew he was Grayson before alerting the police, allowing the latter time to leak all of the compromising photos of his victims before getting arrested. Essentially, Peter completely humiliated and severely damaged the reputations of three students (and one scummy teacher) for the sake of making his documentary more dramatic.
  • Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!: The "Brownout" runs on this, with the motive being (correctly) guessed as the chance to humiliate the student body by seeing them shit themselves.
  • In Medias Res: Season 2 begins after Kevin has been convicted and expelled, living under house arrest with an ankle monitor. This season, however, is released only after the mystery has been solved.
  • Jerk Ass Has A Point: A minor case: Myles ends up admitting that Kevin's ridiculously fussy and involved method of drinking tea does make it taste better.
  • Karma Houdini: Played straight with Perry Coleman. Before the events of the season, he stole school property and then used it to bully and humiliate another student for months. Due to his status as top athlete in his class, he faced no consequences, and is now in UCLA on a basketball scholarship. This blatant immunity that athletes enjoy at St. Bernadine is what throws some suspicion on DeMarcus.
  • Laxative Prank: Someone spikes the lemonade one day and causes a literal shitstorm throughout St. Bernadine's, which is dubbed "The Brownout".
  • Literal Metaphor: The Turd Burgler's crimes are all driven by his desire to prove his former classmates are "full of shit".
  • Manipulative Bastard: Season Two's Big Bad Grayson Wentz stole an innocent woman's private photos and videos, and used them to catfish vulnerable students and a faculty member of the school that he was expelled from. After collecting their own private media, he blackmailed them into committing his poop pranks. He was so good at faking being an attractive girl that Kevin willingly committed the first incident after Grayson's first target refused.
  • Manipulative Editing: The true mastermind of Season 2, Grayson, does this out of necessity to catfish his victims.
  • Nice Guy: DeMarcus is a subversion. He's shown being very friendly with everyone, and it's stated that everyone loves him. However, the actual things he says are often quite condescending and often insulting. He's also very rude to his teachers, believing that he's "untouchable" as the school's star athlete. Late in the season, he reveals that he feels that his friendly interactions with the student body are mostly fake.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In Season 2, Peter and Sam find out the identity of the Turd Burglar (Grayson Wentz) and how he pulled off one of his crimes: he catfished Jenna Hawthorne until he got risque pictures of her, and then blackmailed her into doing the crime. After finding out who the Turd Burglar is, Peter texts him with his real name instead of immediately going to the police, as Sam and Chloe suggest. Unbeknownst to them, the Burglar had blackmailed more victims to commit his other crimes, and he decided to dump everything he had on his victims before the police came. Had the police been called before Grayson knew he was going down, they could have secured the blackmail material without it leaking. No one calls Peter out for this, nor does he even seem to realize he's done anything wrong.
  • N-Word Privileges: DeMarcus admits to changing the way he speaks around his white friends, especially about using the N-word, lest they think they have N-word privileges also.
  • Put on a Bus: It's more accurate to say that Peter and Sam get on a bus and go to Bellevue, Washington, in Season 2, leaving the rest of the cast behind. They don't even reveal the identity of their cameraman like they did in Season 1.
  • Reaction Shot: Kevin's smug persona drops for a moment when he realizes that his ex-friends Chloe and Tanner were hooking up.
  • Real Stitches for Fake Snitches: Lou assumes Gonzo is Peter's source and gives him a sound beating, prompting Gonzo to come to Peter and start spilling the beans for real.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons,
    • Tanner accuses Kevin of committing the Brownout. He turns out to be right, but not for the right reason: Kevin wasn't trying to break up Tanner and Chloe by calling the police — an act committed by Lou, for a different reason — but he was cajoled into getting revenge on someone else by going through with the prank.
    • When Peter gets personally contacted by the Turd Burglar, he suspects that it's because he's recently unknowingly interviewed the real identity of the Turd Burglar. This immediately causes him to suspect DeMarcus. However, he also recently interviewed Grayson, who turns out to be the Turd Burglar.
  • Riddle for the Ages: We never find out which teacher sympathy-vomited as a result of the Turd Burglar's fourth prank.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Turd Burglar admits via social messaging that the motive is to expose that everyone at St. Berdardine is "full of shit."
  • Sad Clown:
    • Kevin, although most people don't find him that funny, if at all. He explains that being bullied and left out made him act this way, so he could be "in on the joke".
    • Also DeMarcus, although unlike Kevin, he's extremely popular with his funny stunts. However, he feels that no-one genuinely likes him and all are just interested in him because of his popularity.
  • Smurfette Principle: Chloe is the only girl in The Horsehead Collective.
  • Stealth Pun: Season Two includes minor character Carla Dickey in a clever nod to Season One's main plot.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Sam and Peter are genuinely appalled when the success of the first season results in someone asking them to investigate a murder. They give that a quick no.
  • Take That!: Kevin refers to "Party in the USA" as "the bubonic plague of sound".
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: Kevin's band in season 2, The Horsehead Collective. They'd probably be a big hit on the avant-garde scene.
  • Toilet Humor: The Turd Burglar runs on this, making poop-related pranks and using poop-related puns on social media. This causes confusion when "the dump" turns out to have nothing to do with poop.
  • Wham Line: In the final episode of Season 2. When Peter and Sam are interviewing Drew Pankratz after discovering he was a catfishing victim by the Turd Burglar. Peter asks him how the Turd Burglar's catfishing persona got him to do the Brownout. Drew's response? "I didn't do the Brownout."
  • Wild Teen Party: There are two in Season 2
    • First, there is the Skip Day; while it's downplayed story-wise, the party still contains the "Great American Challenge", in which participants race to complete very stupid teenage stuff, like finishing a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle after drinking a handle of vodka.
    • Then there's the class charity trip to Costa Rica, where after a few hours of helping the poor, they go back to a high-end hotel for booze and sex. Even the teachers know it's a massive holiday, and there's a lottery for the four chaperone slots on the trip.
  • World's Smallest Violin: DeMarcus' trademark taunt during games is to pretend to play the violin for his haters.