By Kevin McDonough
How big is Netflix? Big enough to lampoon its own success. Its streaming series "Making a Murderer" was catnip to binge viewers. Now "American Vandal" (TV-MA), streaming today, offers a silly but assured send-up of the true crime documentary genre. The crime at the center of this series is both grave and ridiculous. We learn that somebody spray-painted crude images of male genitalia on 27 cars belonging to a high school's faculty.
School authorities immediately suspect Dylan Maxwell, a notorious prankster and would-be YouTube star of the "Jackass" variety with a long history of vandalism, obnoxious behavior and overall bad taste.
Among the inside jokes of this comedy is the fact that Dylan, a delusional social media star with a few thousand followers, is played by Jimmy Tatro, creator of his own YouTube channel with millions of followers.
Based on one eyewitness account, Dylan is "convicted" by school officials and quickly expelled. While all teachers and most students believe that Dylan got what he deserved, Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez), a budding journalist who's part of the school's TV "news" team, has his suspicions about the administration's rush to judgment.
"American Vandal" unfolds as an ardent high school production, an attempt at investigative journalism by enthusiastic amateurs. The juxtaposition of this serious sleuthing with the puerile nature of the crime and its discussion (not to mention Dylan's dumb-as-rocks disposition) is what drives the comedy.
But "American Vandal" is no one-note joke. It's smart enough to allow Dylan and Peter to grow as characters as it gets to the bottom of its mystery.
• The Science Channel will offer live coverage, beginning at 7:50 a.m., of NASA's Cassini spacecraft as it ends its 20-year planetary exploration mission and makes its final plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn. Not to geek out here, but if something happens a billion miles away, can coverage be considered "live"?
According to the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Cassini Solstice Mission site (saturn-archive.jpl.nasa.gov), it takes 1 hour and 24 minutes for transmission from the spacecraft to reach Earth.
• Speaking of cosmic notions of time, what exactly defines a TV season? "South Park" debuted in 1997 and just entered its 21st season last week. "House Hunters" (10 p.m., HGTV, TV-G) debuted in 1999. According to its website, it's now in its 134th season. I'm as confused as you are.
TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
• Kelsea Ballerini, Vince Gill, Toby Keith and Little Big Town are scheduled to perform at the 11th Annual ACM Honors (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
• The 2017 documentary "Tough Guys" (9 p.m. Showtime) surveys the history and personalities of mixed martial arts.
• A camcorder on a camping trip captures creepy phenomena on the series debut of "Evil Things" (10 p.m., TLC, TV-14).
Flaky teens (Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) become embroiled in the Watergate scandal that brings down President Nixon (Dan Hedaya) in the 1999 comedy "Dick" (8 p.m., This TV).
Anthony Scaramucci, Bob Odenkirk and Liam Gallagher are booked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS, r) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Benedict Cumberbatch, Savannah Guthrie, Andy Grammer and Lunchmoney Lewis on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Dr. Phil McGraw, Mike Tyson and Martin Urbano appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC, r) * Jake Tapper, Gwendoline Christie and Gary Clark Jr. visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC, r) * Jeremy Renner, Aubrey Plaza and Chris O'Dowd appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS, r).
© 2017, United Feature Syndicate