10 Things You Might Not Know About American Vandal

Tyler Golden, Netflix
Tyler Golden, Netflix

Just as disaster movies begat Airplane and horror films spawned Scary Movie, the recent onslaught of true-crime docudramas inevitably led to American Vandal. The Netflix spoof series, which premiered in September 2017, followed fictitious filmmakers Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) as they pursued the anonymous, genitalia-drawing vandal haunting an otherwise unremarkable California high school. Superficially a vehicle for sophomoric jokes, the series was actually a clever deconstruction of both the reality genre and the increasing influence of social media.

Critically and commercially successful, American Vandal got a quick season-two renewal. Set to premiere September 14—just a couple of weeks after it will compete for this year's Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or a Dramatic Special—Peter and Sam are set to investigate a phantom pooper terrorizing a Catholic high school. In the meantime, check out some facts about American Vandal’s origins, its approach to fake true crime, and why series co-creator Dan Perrault aimed for something more than “a four-hour d*ck joke.”


Before breaking out with American Vandal, co-creators Perrault and Tony Yacenda garnered some attention for a 2013 parody of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series. The two produced a five-minute “documentary” covering the climactic basketball game in 1996’s Space Jam that featured actual NBA analysts discussing Michael Jordan’s pivotal performance alongside Bugs Bunny. In 2015, they released a similar retrospective for the climactic fight of 1985's Rocky IV between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago.


A scene from 'American Vandal'

With produced footage under their belt, Perrault and Yacenda began to shop their idea for a documentary satire about spray-painted penises to several different outlets in early 2016. While a few cable networks were interested, Perrault told Vanity Fair that at least one executive expressed concern about how they would depict the phallic graffiti. “I don’t know if we could have done penises the same way,” he said. “I’m not going to name the cable network—but we were told that, like, the pee hole, for example, is an issue on cable.” Netflix had no such reservations.


While the premise of American Vandal is fictional, it did have some unintentional echoes in real life. Showrunner Dan Lagana, who was brought onboard to help Perrault and Yacenda flesh out the show’s episodic format, told Vulture that his stepson was once accused of a similar, penis-related crime.

“I have a 17-year-old stepson, and when he was a freshman in high school he was accused of vandalizing an art project at school with a large phallic image,” Lagana said. “He didn’t do it but he got suspended for it. I remember sitting in the principal’s office, just boiling with fury over the injustice of it, and there was no way to prove his innocence. I told the creators that story and from that day forward we were a three-headed monster, which I was very, very excited about.”


While American Vandal has the visceral feel of a documentary series, it’s comprised of actors delivering scripted lines in a way that sounds spontaneous. But for scenes involving Peter Maldonado, the interrogator-slash-filmmaker, director Yacenda had actor Tyler Alvarez conduct free-flowing interviews with cast mates and reference his own in-character notes. That layer of realism helped the series “feel like this was a real case and we were working with real people,” according to Perrault.


Perrault and Yacenda are often linked to the true-crime podcast Serial and Netflix’s Making a Murderer as the inspirations for American Vandal. But their documentary tastes run deeper. According to an Entertainment Weekly interview with the pair, the show also drew from the HBO series The Jinx—about the wealthy, potentially very murderous Robert Durst—as well as Errol Morris’s acclaimed 1988 feature documentary The Thin Blue Line and The Central Park Five.


The star of American Vandal’s first season is undoubtedly Jimmy Tatro, a YouTube content star who received glowing reviews for his portrayal of slack-jawed delinquent Dylan. (It’s Dylan who is accused, perhaps wrongfully, of drawing penises on 27 school faculty members' cars.) For one scene, Tatro mimed farting in the direction of small children to demonstrate Dylan’s web series on “baby farting,” a prank spree that sets him up as a viable suspect. “I didn’t actually fart on the kids,” Tatro told GQ. “But they just had no context for what was going on. Like, I don’t know what they knew about what they were shooting, but I would imagine it wasn’t enough for them to understand what was happening. So it was just like, mom and kid walking, and I just ran up and stuck my butt in the kid’s face and ran off, and the kid was probably extremely confused.”


Jessica Juarez, Tyler Alvarez, Jimmy Tatro, and Lou Wilson in 'American Vandal'

To create a sequence full of social media footage that eventually pays off for Peter and Sam, the series' producers orchestrated a faux-high school party at “Nana’s,” the host’s grandmother’s house. The idea stemmed from staff writer Seth Cohen, who once attended a party in a “Nana” residence circa 1999. Cohen had videotape of the party, which he showed to the entire writing staff.


Hooking people on its mystery was apparently not a problem for American Vandal. In December 2017, Netflix released a top 10 list of the most-binged programs on the streaming service, which they defined as series that were viewed for more than two hours a day. American Vandal topped the list, beating other shows like 13 Reasons Why, Riverdale, and The Keepers.


When the show caught on and Perrault and Yacenda agreed to a second season, their initial idea was to explore Dylan’s ongoing story of being labeled a penis-painter. Instead, Peter and Sam will be investigating a totally new case involving feces. In the context of American Vandal, they’re now celebrated true-crime documentarians, and the two will likely become the only recurring characters on the series.


Tyler Alvarez in 'American Vandal'

Never in the history of the Peabody Awards—which celebrate achievement in television and other mass media—has an honor gone to a show about badly-drawn penises. In April 2018, the prestigious prize was given to American Vandal, with members acknowledging the show’s deeper ambitions to explore adolescence, social constructions, and technology. “The show’s careful realism and straight-faced performances are part of its comedy,” the organization wrote, “but they are also the foundation for a climax that finds the tragedy in Dylan’s infamy and the injustices behind the crime itself, foregrounding our complicity in the series’ unexpectedly profound lesson of what is unearthed when a quest for the truth loses its way.”

Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.