Last week’s episode of Vice Principals, “A Trusty Steed” was deliciously mean and a great deal of fun. This week’s episode focused almost entirely on the budding non-relationship between Gamby and English teacher Amanda Snodgrass (Georgia King). There are a few moments that work, but it’s mostly uncomfortable.
“The Field Trip” details a field trip that Vice Principal Gamby forces the other teachers to let him go on. He threatens to cancel the trip if he doesn’t go as a “disciplinary supervisor”. The only reason Gamby is interested in the trip is to get closer to Snodgrass, who has been nice to him but clearly isn’t interested. The organizer of the field trip, history teacher Bill Hayden, is both good-looking and charismatic. This intimidates Gamby and makes him even more on edge than usual.
In his desperate attempts to woo sweet Snodgrass, Gamby enlists the help of Russell. Russell previously let Gamby know that he had binders of information about every employee at Lincoln High; Gamby asks him for Snodgrass’ binder. Russell initially tells Gamby no but later the binder magically appears in Gamby’s car. (A post-it note on the front reads: “Lock your doors, a**hole!”). Russell is otherwise absent from the episode, save for a short bit at the beginning where he and Gamby make fun of Dr. Brown in front of the flagpole. It’s filthy but funny because at least the two of them are having fun. There’s a laugh to be had, both out of shock and joy at the crassness of it all.
Unfortunately, most of the episode is a one-note joke: Gamby is a jerk, and everyone else is sick of it. McBride does his standard toddler impression, but it doesn’t work as a protagonist who takes up the majority of the show’s runtime. Laughing at someone’s expense is only funny for so long before it starts to just make you feel bad. Gamby is awful, but enough of his character has been revealed that it’s hard not to feel at least a little sorry for the guy. It’s hard not to feel sorry for most of the characters in the episode. Even if Gamby and Russell’s joking about Brown is kind of humorous, she just lost everything in a house fire. (Thankfully, the only characterization of her we’ve gotten so far is that she’s vain and cutthroat, so it’s easier to laugh at her.)
Snodgrass does her best to deal with both Gamby’s awkward advances and his meltdowns. She does it with grace up until Gamby disturbs the field trip dinner with yelling and swearing. After everyone else leaves, she tells Gamby that the other teachers believe that he’s ruining the trip. Gamby can’t believe it, and he blames Hayden. While he tries in vain to get closer to Snodgrass, his family life is going poorly as well. His daughter has given up horseback riding and taken up motocross. (Gamby paid for her horse and believed that was their “special thing”, and his ex-wife’s new husband is a professional biker.)
The episode’s best moments were those that had no dialogue. There are several sequences where the entire joke is visual, and it works. Much like last week’s insane house destruction sequence, the show is at its best when it lets the actor’s faces and actions speak for themselves. The events of the field trip’s focus (a visit to Colonial Charlestown) are conveyed in a series of shots of the characters (and a number of the high school students) enjoying the trip. Everyone is having fun, even Gamby. They’re running and learning and enjoying themselves. It’s refreshing in an episode that otherwise focuses on misery.
Much later in the episode, two of the students go missing. Gamby learns that they went off to have sex and goes to get Hayden. The other teachers are in Hayden’s room and they all go to look for the teens. In a rather explicit shot, Gamby and Hayden stumble upon the two students having sex in the locker room by the pool. They are pressed against the glass window, and it’s both shocking and hilarious. The adults scramble to restore order and punish the horny kids. Afterward, Ms. Abbott somehow seduces Gamby. She discovers the giant binder and tells Gamby how creepy it is (“I’m looking at a page about her menstrual cycle” is particularly cringeworthy). He tells her not to tell anyone, which will probably come into play later and destroy him.
When Vice Principals focuses on the weirdness of high school, jokes about buttholes, and Gamby and Russell’s bizarre partnership, it’s great. When it drags everyone through Gamby’s sad, sad life, it’s kind of like laughing at The Jersey Shore: you’re just glad it’s not you. It’s schadenfreude for the most jaded of viewers.
This episode was the first directed by McBride, and maybe that’s just too much McBride? He’s great in small doses or as part of a larger cast, but here it feels like the same joke told again and again. He’s hilarious when he’s having a good time (or angry), but frustrated and desperately alone? Not so much.
- People on the field trip shooting old-fashioned guns in slow-motion. The final reveal shows Gamby shooting two flintlock pistols like a gangster and it’s a great payoff.
- Gamby and Hayden trying not to look at the naked teenagers while they bust them having sex.
- Gamby and the bus driver’s understanding nods to one another at the hotel diner.
- The look of pure disgust on Abbott’s face when she confronts Gamby with the binder.