The new Netflix original series American Vandal may look like your average true crime documentary, but don't be fooled — the series is actually a parody of the true crime genre. But, just because a show is fictional doesn't mean it doesn't draw inspiration from real-life events. With an explosion of movies, TV shows and podcasts with a focus on solving crimes, the creators of American Vandal certainly had many examples within the genre to draw inspiration from. But what about the characters? Do they have any basis in real figures? Fans may be wondering especially about the amateur student investigator and documentarian (played by actor Tyler Alvarez) in the series. Is Peter Maldonado from American Vandal based on a real person? You could say that.
After all, the creators of the show, Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, have revealed that they drew heavily from true crime media, so it stands to reason that the characters they created have some basis in that reality as well. In an interview with Bustle, Perrault shared 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." As such, the show definitely shares some distinctive elements with Making a Murderer, of course, as well as shows like The Jinx on HBO and the podcast Serial that lend American Vandal an authentic feel while simultaneously emphasizing the absurdity of the crime documented (the vandalism of 27 faculty cars with spray painted penises).
And, much like the plot of the show, Peter is also an amalgamation of different true crime documentarians. As a student who asserts himself into the case and is determined to follow it through to the end, Peter shares many characteristics with documentarians such as Nev and Rel Schulman, who used the investigation of Nev's online girlfriend as both a revealing documentary and a personal narrative. Like Nev, Peter is not a silent figure behind a camera, but a face that is as much a part of the story as those involved directly with the crime.
Dan Perrault told Bustle that Peter's character also drew heavily from Sarah Koenig, the real-life host of the immensely popular podcast Serial. "The most important part of casting [Peter] was finding someone who could become as invested in this case as Sarah Koenig," Perrault told Bustle.
By basing Peter on famous figures that true crime audiences are bound to be familiar with, the creators of American Vandal have ensured that fans of the show will understand exactly who and what they are poking fun at. Having a character with the seriousness and dedication of Sarah Koenig investigate a crime involving spray painted penises adds to the hilarity and absurdity of the whole situation. It's part of what makes the show so effective as a parody. It takes itself so seriously, which makes audiences do the same — all while realizing how ridiculous the whole thing is.
Hopefully Koenig won't be offended by the comparison. After all, we need people like her, people who possess a dedication to pursuing the truth of a case that society may not know enough about. But, Peter is almost the perfect character to gently mock true crime hosts, because he does care so much that the audience falls in love with him. You're dedicated to going on the journey with him — even if it's a journey to discover something as low stakes as who drew the d*cks.