‘Vice Principals’ Recap and Reaction: “Circles”

Danielle Ryan

One of the primary criticisms of Vice Principals is its unrelenting meanness. The show’s protagonists are despicable, most of the supporting characters are unlikeable, and the whole show is tainted by cruelty. Last week’s episode, “Run for the Money“, showed hints of Gamby’s humanity. In this week’s installment, the show explores the reasons for Gamby and Russell’s awfulness. The result is not as funny, but it does give the show a bit more emotional weight. Gamby and Russell are terrible human beings, but they’re still human.

Vice Principals Russell and Seychelles

After last week’s fiasco with the LSD-laced water fight, Gamby and Russell begin this week’s episode with a fight in the woods. As always, the show is at its most enjoyable when Goggins and McBride share the screen. The two have comedic chemistry and the characters have an interesting hate-bromance. Unfortunately, the fight leads to them ending their unique partnership to take down Belinda Brown. Russell teams up with art teacher Seychelles, while Gamby is left to his own pathetic devices.

The episode flips the switch on the vice principals’ general tendencies as well. Gamby, who is loud and full of rage, is forced by Dr. Brown to stop disciplining students. Russell, who usually uses his wits to solve problems, is asked by his wife to confront a rude, noisy neighbor. Gamby struggles without Russell to help him channel his rage and Russell is made a fool in front of his wife and mother-in-law when the muscle-bound neighbor puts him in a headlock.

Dr. Brown forces Gamby to stop giving detentions, suspensions, or expulsions, and instead wants the vice principal to communicate with students via “Circles”. Circles is a sort of group-therapy session where Gamby is supposed to help students resolve their problems by talking them out. It’s the most anti-Gamby thing possible, complete with bean bag chairs, popcorn, and talking about one’s feelings. This eventually leads him to break down in front of a group of female students. He laments Russell’s absence and the teens console him: it’s almost heartwarming and pretty funny.

Vice Principals Russell

Meanwhile, Russell tries to deal with his rude neighbor. This guy lifts weights late at night while blaring metal music and enthusiastically grunting. He’s a total meathead, and the only way Russell can think to fight him is by calling the police. This backfires because Russell can’t help but watch through the window with glee and the neighbor sees him. Meathead then accosts Russell’s wife  Christine and mother-in-law Mi-Cha at the Piggly Wiggly, threatening them both.  After another encounter that ends with Russell getting punched, he decides to get violent.

Russell’s brand of violence is pretty tame, unfortunately. He smashes his neighbor’s stereo system with a pillowcase stuffed with soda cans. He then proceeds to get his ass thoroughly kicked. Things are looking bad for the silver-tongued vice principal until Gamby arrives like the world’s schlubbiest knight in shining polyester. There is a palpable sense of satisfaction when Gamby knocks the meathead’s teeth in with a swift, brass-knuckles aided hook. Gamby helps Russell to his feet and the two resume their partnership.

The relationship between Gamby and Russell is the most interesting thing about Vice Principals. These are two men who don’t think they need anyone else. All of their relationships are dysfunctional and borderline abusive. (Russell is certainly worse in this regard: his treatment of his wife and mother-in-law is atrocious.) Against everything they believe in, they realize that they need one another. Their co-dependence is both their greatest strength and weakness. It will be interesting to see how their relationship changes as the next season and-a-half unfold. It’s possible that Gamby’s sentimentality will rub off on Russell and that Russell will teach Gamby how to interact with people, but it’s more likely for them to only make one another worse.

Vice Principals

Russell is right back to using Gamby for his own gain within moments. Christine and Mi-Cha come running over to see what happened and Russell tells them that he beat up the still-unconscious neighbor. He kisses Christine and walks away victorious. For the first time since the series began, however, Gamby is aware of Russell’s manipulations and lets him have his moment. Earlier in the episode, he called Russell his friend, and this is the first time he really shows it. It’s as close to sappy as this nasty show could get, but it at least makes the characters a little sympathetic.

Best Moments

  • Dayshawn asks Gamby if he’s having sex with Russell. The entire ensuing conversation about him seeing the two of them in the woods is pretty great. Gamby is horrified and repeatedly denies all of it, and Dayshawn says that they “make a cute couple”. He’s not teasing, either, he genuinely likes the idea of the two of them together. It’s another example of the semi-sweetness baked into this otherwise dark comedy.
  • Russell and Mi-Cha watch a Korean soap opera and both are deeply engaged in it. The two almost share a moment, and it’s interrupted by the rude neighbor. The look on Russell’s face is priceless.
  • Speaking of Russell’s faces, actor Walton Goggins is once again incredible this entire episode. He’s doing some of his best work ever here, and it’s fascinating to watch him show off his comedic chops.
  • Russell sings a little song to himself while watching his neighbor and the police through the blinds. It’s the kind of weird little thing people do sometimes that’s never really talked about or shown in the media, and it’s hysterical to see it onscreen.
Danielle Ryan
A cinephile before she could walk, Danielle comes to Fandom by way of CNN, CHUD.com, and Paste Magazine. She loves controversial cinema (especially horror) and good cinematography; her dislikes include romantic comedies and people's knees.
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