He’s candid to a fault, a trait that clashes deliciously with his tendency to condescend to everyone around him, especially his teammates. “I look down at people with love,” he reveals, matter-of-factly. DeMarcus is like the student who is constantly disrupting the class to say something wildly inappropriate, and is admonished by the teacher — who is simultaneously trying to stifle a laugh. You can’t help but be drawn to him.
The show’s creators, Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, and its showrunner, Dan Lagana, use the character to interrogate a crossroads of social issues: class, race, the corrosive nature of the sports industrial complex within academic institutions. In one clever subplot, the wannabe-detectives Sam and Peter turn to DeMarcus’s texts to try to suss out his guilt or innocence; as they compare his language to that of the Turd Burglar’s cryptic messages on social media, the subject turns to the matters of code switching. DeMarcus unashamedly shifts his slang when around his mostly white classmates at St. Bernardine versus his friends back home in Rainier Beach, a less affluent and less white town 40 minutes away. “It is what it is,” one of those “city friends,” as Peter describes them, tells the filmmakers resignedly. “We all gotta do it.”
This flippant response is emblematic of how “American Vandal” presents these issues — instead of signposting the complicated, often icky politics that typically underscore the narrative of a black athlete at a predominantly white school in real life, they are seamlessly embedded in the storytelling. Sometimes they are brought right to the surface, as with the code switching comment, but more often it’s subtle.
In a later episode, DeMarcus reveals that underneath his happy-go-lucky exterior is a teenager who finds his success “alienating.” Mr. Gregg plays this moment of self-reflection just as confidently as he does DeMarcus’s boastful swagger. He pinpoints the pressures of being an athlete, but one can also infer that his blackness plays a part in it, too. “All of those people, they might act like they love me, and sometimes I feel like they do,” he tells Peter and Sam, as images of DeMarcus interacting with his mostly white classmates, appear on the screen. “It just don’t feel real. It don’t feel genuine.”
The character of DeMarcus does feel real, and genuine. Not unlike Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), the dimwitted prankster at the center of Season 1’s mystery, or “American Vandal” itself, he ultimately turns out to contain a bit more substance than initially meets the eye. That’s what elevates him above a one-dimensional, one-trick source of comic relief — DeMarcus is absurd, but grounded; conceited, thanks to his singular abilities, yet just as desperate for authentic human connection as the rest of us.