Binge-r #105: American Vandal + The Land of Steady Habits
AMERICAN VANDAL S2
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
The second season of Netflix’s mock teenage true crime documentary raises – or depending on your taste, lowers – the stakes. If the inciting offence last time was a deluge of spray-dicked dicks on teachers’ cars, now it’s a mass dose of laxatives in a cafeteria lemonade dispenser that causes a volcanic explosion of desperately shitting high school students. The mixture of sombre authenticity – “it was really just a normal day,” a witness solemnly recalls, as they always do – and pants-filling pooping is just one of many hilarious (to me at least) contradictions that the new episodes of American Vandal deliver.
Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda’s series, which was a sleeper hit in 2017 once viewers got past the unconvincing synopsis, is a superbly constructed satire of the true crime documentary genre and a warmly generous evocation of adolescent life. Both realms are defined by inexplicable events, shifting allegiances, and irrational decisions, and by interweaving them with a mock serious tone exemplified by student investigators Sam Ecklund (Griffin Gluck) and Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez) you laugh (well I did) all the way until the sobering realisation that the daft concept actually maps out how injury and injustice grows.
The first season had Sam and Peter investigating a meathead expelled for his tasteless graffiti at their San Diego high school, but now with a degree of notoriety they’re invited to a prestigious Catholic private school in Washington State where an anonymous figure, credited as The Turd Burglar by their mocking Instagram account, has blighted Chicken Finger Monday before unleashing two further faecal hacks: Poop Piñata and the Shit Launcher. Suspended and charged by police, the accused, Kevin McClane (Travis Tope), proclaims his innocence, even as his eccentric manner may remind anyone who’s seen The Jinx of that show’s since arrested subject, millionaire murder suspect Robert Durst.
Season two is a touch beneath the first, if only because the format is mostly revisited. That said, this is such smart silliness. A comic riff reminiscent of a Christopher Guest character will match a deadpan scatological sequence, all the while leading into a high school send-up of adult malfeasance, such as the way American universities with elite sporting programs cover up the heinous crimes of star athletes. The production techniques, such as an annotated cafeteria plan and out of focus recreations, remain on point, and the plotting makes you generally fascinated by the slowly unwound conspiracy and its red herrings, as well as flaws in documentary ethics. If you’re unsure about American Vandal, give season one a chance. If you liked that, jump into the new instalment. It actually is worth giving a shit about.
The Land of Steady Habits (Netflix, 2018, 98 minutes): Change is a matter of bittersweet accumulation in the films of American writer and director Nicole Holofcener; wry realisation are always more prominent than sudden snaps. After 2013’s Enough Said, a bittersweet romantic redemption with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini set in Los Angeles, her new Netflix original offers some discreet harm of the bourgeoisie in an affluent commuter community outside New York. Anders Hill (Ben Mendelsohn) has prematurely retired from his finance job and divorced Helene (Edie Falco), a freeing of supposed burdens that has left him bored and lonely. “It’s complicated,” Anders keeps insisting, and even though his situation actually isn’t Mendelsohn motivates this middle-aged crisis by tempering his distressed intensity into bellicose defiance and bad decisions. The writing doesn’t let him skate – Helene, among others, delivers some scathing assessments – but in adapting Ted Thompson’s novel Holofcener, a descriptive visual stylist, has lost a degree of spontaneity. A despairing son of family friends literally launching a flare is a little too obvious, but casting Mendelsohn as the protagonist thankfully does work. He refuses to merely seek your sympathy.
New on Netflix: Magic Mike XXL (2015, 115 minutes) is a deliciously rich mix of abs, affirmation and immaculate pop aesthetic – come for the b(r)and getting back together, stay for Steven Soderbergh’s expressive cinematography (Gregory Jacobs directs); Hanna (2011, 111 minutes) makes the coming of age drama into a propulsive action film, with a teenage Saoirse Ronan as the isolated girl trained for revenge against Cate Blanchett’s CIA agent by Eric Bana’s uncompromising father.
New on SBS on Demand: Slicing the tactical, political and moral elements that surround a U.S. and British drone strike in Kenya, Eye in the Sky (2015, 102 minutes) is a tense, escalating drama that stars Helene Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Alan Rickman; masterfully shot in black and white and set just after the cessation of World War II, 1945 (2017, 91 minutes) is a Hungarian drama about how a village’s culpability is exposed by Jewish arrivals.
New on Stan: Before it runs off the rails in the final act, Joel Edgerton’s The Gift (2015, 108 minutes) is an unsettling psychological thriller about a couple new to Los Angeles (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) trying to make sense of the former’s odd school friend (Edgerton); Liam Neeson deploys a different skill set in Mark Felt (2017, 103 minutes), a simmering drama about the FBI Assistant Director whose anonymous leaks forced out a U.S. President.
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