How The 'American Vandal' Creators Captured The Perfect True Crime Tone

Tyler Golden/Netflix

The latest addition to Netflix's true crime catalog isn't actually true. Premiering Sept. 15, American Vandal is a highly-detailed parody of acclaimed true crime shows that have popped up in the past few years. Instead of being centered around a murder, American Vandal is about a crude act of vandalism that rocks a high school. The events of American Vandal aren't as shocking as other true crime tales, and, as such, there isn't an exact true story that American Vandal is based on — but it does have several popular inspirations.

While acts of vandalism on school property are nothing new, the sheer scope of the crime on American Vandal is entirely unique to the show. While the crime at the center of American Vandal is fictional, the inspirations that creators Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault pulled from pulled from are very real. In an interview with Bustle, Perrault revealed that "[Tony and I are] huge fans of the genre. What spurred the idea was just the fact that there were so many of these that, by the time of Making a Murderer, the genre really spiked. There was definitely enough material to work with."

Probably the most obvious influence on Yacenda and Perrault, Making a Murderer was the television series that helped kick of America's fascination with marathon-able true crime series. All 10 episodes dropped on Dec. 18, 2015, and it raised the bar for true crime on television.

Yacenda mentions that the setting of Making a Murderer, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, served as an inspiration for American Vandal's own environment. "We really went from this uneducated Manitowoc backdrop from Making a Murderer that makes it very interesting for us to try to figure [the case] out," Yacenda says. "The funniest version of that, to me, was the [world of the] dumb SoCal stoner. Making that our Manitowoc was a great jumping off point."

Alongside the tone and look of the show, the creators recognize that one of the things that made Making a Murderer a success was that the show focused on not just the accused criminal, but the world around him, as well.

The other major influence on American Vandal was the podcast heard 'round the world, Serial. While Making a Murderer inspired the show's central figure and the environment he lives in, Serial served as a template for the person behind the camera.

"I think what makes Serial work so well is the investment that Sarah Koenig has in the case. [The Adnan Syed case] is not a particularly recent case, it’s over a decade old by the time she gets to it, but she’s so committed to getting to the bottom of it that you can’t help but jump on that bandwagon," Perrault says. "The most important part of casting [Peter Maldonado, the investigator] was finding someone who could become as invested in this case as Sarah Koenig."

Alongside Serial and Making a Murderer, both Perrault and Yacenda cite HBO's The Jinx, classic documentary The Thin Blue Line, and influential French miniseries The Staircase as further inspirations. It's clear that Perrault and Yacenda pulled from a bevy of sources to create a show that both serves as a love letter to the genre and manages to be a wholly individual parody. American Vandal may not be based on a true story, but with all the inspiration that went into it, you'd be forgiven for thinking the series was real — it certainly feels that way.