‘Vice Principals’ Is a Lovely Wallow in Hate

HBO’s newest comedy Vice Principals is an entertaining and hilarious bit of nastiness

There’s something cathartic about watching two grown-ass adult men fight like kids. Not just fight like kids, but fight like kids against a perceived common enemy in a fight they cannot possibly win. HBO’s Vice Principals relishes in the childlike rivalry between Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins). There are no boundaries in this war, and the farther Vice Principals pushes the two actors, the better the exceedingly filthy and extremely funny comedy becomes.

Gamby and Russell are competing vice principals at South Carolina’s North Jackson High School. Gamby heads up discipline, Russell education. As the former principal (Bill Murray) retires to care for his dying wife, Gamby and Russell assume they will each ascend to the principal’s seat. Unfortunately for them, the school board has another / better candidate in mind in Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). Brown’s appearance unites the two vice principals in a war against her. Hilarity clearly ensues.

Vice Principals isn’t a deep comedy, but it’s extremely good at doing what it sets out to do. It wants to shock you with the immaturity of the main characters and the great lengths to which they will go to win their coveted seat. The pilot gives you everything you’d expect from Danny McBride and co-producer/writer/director Jody Hill, namely a stream of hilariously profane improvisational moments between the two leads. It’s not until the second episode, “A Trusty Steed,” where the mania becomes inspired.

Vice Principals
(Photo: Fred Norris/HBO)
McBride is very funny, but he gives exactly what you’d expect. Gamby is a damaged man-child who uses his position of authority to lash out against the world. What really elevates the comedy is Walton Goggins’ blisteringly brilliant comedic skills, well employed here as the seemingly harmless, effete Russell. Russell’s interior, however, is even darker than Gamby’s. Like Gamby, Russell appears trapped by his circumstances and uses this war against Dr. Brown to release the inner beast. And he loves every second of it. Goggins’ performance is unhinged madness. He’s an immediate front-runner for Emmy attention next year in my book.

This isn’t just the McBride/Goggins show, though. Kimberly Hebert Gregory is also quite funny as Dr. Brown in dealing with these two men-children at work and with her own disrespectful kids at home. Over the course of the six episodes HBO provided for screening, Gregory evolves her character in interesting and unique ways thanks to the strong material. The actress makes the most of what could have been a throw-away role given the strong leads. Georgia King also has a few nice moments as hot English teacher Amanda Snodgrass, the object of Gamby’s unrealistic obsession.

Overall, Vice Principals gives you exactly what you’d expect from a Danny McBride / Jody Hill production, but it surprises by shading the proceedings with some nice extra touches. My best advice is to take in a few episodes if the pilot doesn’t 100 percent win you over. It took a few for the magic to work on me, but it hooked me after episode two. Danny McBride caught my attention, but Walton Goggins made me stay.

Vice Principals
(Photo: Fred Norris/HBO)

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