McBride, Goggins Find Themselves on the Brink of Absurdity in ‘Vice Principals’

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Leave it to the unbounded, uncensored mind of comedian Danny McBride to come up with a hit television program in which two Southern vice principals, longtime rivals each pining for the principal’s seat at North Jackson High, unite against the newly-appointed principal in an effort to tear her down from her post and claim it for either of themselves.

This plot might not sound like the easiest selling point to pitch to producers when trying to get a show picked up by a network, but the folks over at HBO, having already worked with McBride on four seasons of his program Eastbound & Down, must have sensed that this clever and cockamamie show would hit home with audiences across the nation, at least for a little while. Vice Principals has been picked up its second season, which will be its last.

Vice Principals is plainly absurd. Quite like his character in Eastbound & Down, McBride’s Vice Principal Neal Gamby is incredibly narcissistic, crude, and unrelenting. He and his co-vice principal, Lee Russell, played by The Hateful Eight’s Walton Goggins, will stop at nothing to run Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberley Gregory), the new principal, out of town. Russell in particular comes up with some very nasty and malicious tricks and pranks to intricately ruin Brown’s life. Russell’s untamed methods, however, do make Gamby question how far he is really willing to go to get his promotion, which makes it seem like Gamby has a heart, but eventually he falls back into his selfish and irrational line of thinking.

So with a show headed by two clowns like Gamby and Russell, it makes complete sense that Vice Principals was planned from the beginning to have only two seasons. These characters are extremely vile. They’re hilarious, but they’re vile. Whether or not there’s room for real growth for either of them is yet to be seen, but it’s easy to doubt that there will be.

Aside from Gamby and Russell, few characters really stand out in Vice Principals. The most notable supporting cast member is Gregory playing Brown. Hebert Gregory brings just the right amount of sass and intimidation to make viewers admire and fear her. At times it seems Brown suspects Gamby and Russell’s antics, and when she sits them down and there’s an ambiguity as to why they are all meeting, viewers really fear that Brown has caught onto the dunce vice principals’ ploys. Besides Brown, the rest of the supporting characters fail to stand on their own two feet. They only serve to mirror the audience’s surprise and disgust at Gamby in his more absurd and embarrassing moments. So while Gamby, Russell, and Brown hold enough spunk to keep this show funny for a little while, Vice Principals lacks an infrastructure that could hold up the program if the producers wanted to keep it running.

As far as a soundtrack and visual style go, there’s nothing special happening here. The show’s intro and ending feature your typical pep-rally drumline and besides that, there’re a few guitar riffs to ramp up the tension in certain scenes, but that’s it. Vice Principals is also very aesthetically plain, but to the show’s credit, McBride doesn’t really seem very concerned with either of these aspects of the show. Instead he appears much more concerned with exploring this version of the egomaniacal archetype that he seems to appreciate so much.

So, for being as self-referential as it is, Vice Principals is fairly good. In many ways, McBride’s Eastbound & Down character and Gamby are identical and only hold different occupations. But, oddly, this job switch is enough to keep Vice Principals refreshing. With a definite expiration date slapped onto the show, McBride and the producers seem to understand that this concept could only last so long and that after a point, the show would wear out its welcome. But, knowing that the show has an end in sight and that the writers acknowledge the brief window they have to work with this story, it’s easy to sit back and let the good laughs roll with Vice Principals.

Featured Image By HBO

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About Chris Fuller 166 Articles
Chris is the Arts & Review Editor for The Heights. He is obsessed with 'Star Wars,' The Bee Gees, and funk in general. He tries to live life to its fuller. (Get it?)