What people who dismiss American Vandal as just puerile humor miss is that it’s much smarter than it looks from the outside. Yes, it has funny poop jokes. And lots of poop jokes. And more poop jokes. But as this episode proved, the writers are also willing to wade into the complex territory of social politics and high school friendships with a degree of satire and wit that you don’t see from many shows with teenage casts.
While this great episode could look from the outside like it’s just about proving that Lou has something to do with the poop pranks that befell St. Bernardine’s, it also documents how friendship, especially when you’re a teenager, can rule your behavior. Consider how Skip Day impacted the duos of DeMarcus & Lou and Kevin & Tanner. While Lou has rushed to his buddy’s side to protect him, Tanner may have falsely implicated his own. Both the Lou/DeMarcus and Kevin/Tanner arcs are about how friendship changes when issues like post-school plans and even romance intercede. And how long do you think it is before these complex issues are reflected in the show’s true dynamic duo: Sam & Peter, a friendship strained by the dick-vestigation last year and likely to be again soon in Bellevue, Washington.
Most of this chapter in the saga of the Turd Burglar is dedicated to the mysterious Lou, someone who likes to call himself the Robin to DeMarcus’ Batman but is really more of the Alfred. Has he been protecting DeMarcus’ reputation through the Turd Burglar saga or trying to destroy it? My suspicion of Lou was always that he was trying to either frame DeMarcus or use his popularity as a shield, but Peter and Sam presume that they’ve been doing the pranks together, a presumption heightened by the revelation that both young men were late to the pep rally at which St. Bernardine’s kids got covered in cat poop. Were they loading the launchers? Has Lou been giving DeMarcus the shit assist and letting Mr. Untouchable score?
What we do learn about Lou this episode is that he’s an enforcer. He will threaten teammates, even going as far as to punch Gonzo when he thinks he’s the one who has been talking to Sam and Peter. The shiner doesn’t scare Gonzo, who goes to the AV team and tells them all about it, also revealing that it was not the Yummy Swirl card in DeMarcus’ wallet, it was that of The Turd Burglar. Was DeMarcus the real villain and Lou his protection? DeMarcus pulled the pranks and dropped the calling cards; Lou handled everything else, including sending the warnings and follow-ups (Lou’s phone has the incriminating ‘glitch.’)
It certainly seems like Lou is willing to do anything for his buddy, even heating up his food in the Teacher’s Lounge and basically doing whatever he says. More interestingly, he seems to be pulling strings behind the scenes, trying to keep DeMarcus from keeping up his friendship with Perry, who he worries is going to convince him to come to UCLA. He even called the cops on Skip Day when he learned that DeMarcus was coming there, and the AV guys have video of him on the phone at the party (which also includes a shot of Tanner and Chloe making out...with tongue). Most incriminatingly, Lou texted DeMarcus that the cops had broken up the party before they actually did. And the guys aren’t scared to show this little detail to Lou & DeMarcus. How do they respond? Well, it looks like they’re going after Kevin, as we see on a security video. Are they threatening him to take the fall for the 4th Poop Crime? Or is there another twist this season waiting to be flushed?
- #1 Suspect: Lou, of course, but the question is who else knew and who else was involved? Was DeMarcus an equal player with Lou? Was Lou just covering for DeMarcus? Could Kevin have played more of a role here than his stated innocence suggests? What if he was supposed to take the fall all along, and Chloe screwed it up?
- Kevin McClain learned a lesson this week that scars everyone at least once in their life: Pizza Rolls will fuck up the roof of your mouth.
- Jimmy Tatro got a lot of great press last year for his performance in season one. Three-quarters of the way through this year, it’s a good time to assess this ensemble. Briefly, there may not be a Tatro standout, but they’re all pretty great overall, especially Melvin Gregg as DeMarcus and Travis Tope as Kevin. The former perfectly nails that kind of guy who can insult you with a smile so often that he doesn’t even realize how shitty he treats people; the latter seemed a bit too mannered at first but has also become both a fuller character and a clever archetype of the ‘different’ kid who embraces his eccentricities while also wishing he could hold on to his friendships a little more tightly.
- As for the whole season? Three-quarters through, I’m willing to say it’s not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as the first but it’s definitely equally ambitious, maybe even more so when it comes to scope and theme. Let’s see if DeMarcus, Kevin, Peter, Sam, Chloe, and Lou close it out in the fourth quarter.