Vice Principals ended last week with Danny McBride’s Gamby rushing to the hospital to see his daughter following a motocross accident. The episode focused on surprisingly tender moments between Gamby and his daughter, new girlfriend Amanda, and Dr. Brown. The characters seemed to be growing, and there was a hint of sweetness under the show’s often overwhelmingly bitter tone.
Part of what makes Vice Principals fascinating to watch is the depth of the characters. While Gamby, Russell, and Dr. Brown could all be caricatures, reduced to their nastiness, the show instead reveals their human side and what made them become so awful in the first place. This week’s episode, “Gin”, takes a deeper look at Dr. Brown’s past and re-cements a weakening bond between Gamby and Russell.
Gamby is finally on top of the world. He’s hooking up with Amanda, his daughter doesn’t want to do motocross anymore, and Dr. Brown offers him a new title and promotion. Russell, on the other hand, is going crazy trying to undo the damage he did when Brown caught him spitting in her coffee, and Gamby’s promotion would mean Russell’s termination. Gamby tells Brown that he has to think about her offer – he clearly considers Russell a friend despite their checkered past.
After having sex with Amanda in a school bus, Gamby goes to the gymnasium to find a student hanging from the rafters like a monkey. A group of band students is drunk, and he bans them all from attending the winter concert. Dr. Brown supports him and tells the students a rousing story about her own problems with gin. She even has a tattoo of gin on her shoulder, to remind her that she shouldn’t drink. It’s the kind of stuff we’ve come to expect from Brown. She’s a tough cookie with a gift for public speaking.
Even tough cookies crumble, however, and Brown doesn’t hold up so well when her sons tell her they want to move back to Philly with their dad. She gets angry with them and tells them to just go. “If you don’t want to be with me, I don’t want to be with you neither,” she tells them before they depart.
Russell’s doing poorly as well. He’s never gotten respect at home, but now he can’t get it at school either. He even cries in front of Gamby, though he fervently denies showing any vulnerability. Gamby’s seeming moment of triumph is cut short when he questions Amanda about her relationship with history teacher Hayden. In typical Gamby fashion, he throws a temper tantrum and slams a file cabinet to the ground. Amanda calls him a twelve-year-old, and the two take a hiatus from their courtship.
With the show’s three central characters at their lowest, Gamby shows up at Russell’s house. Russell is being harangued by his wife and mother-in-law (as usual), and Gamby tells him about Brown’s job offer. After feeling sorry for himself for a bit, Russell finally shows Gamby a bit of compassion and friendship. Gamby tells Russell that his friendship is all he needed, and it’s time for them to finish what they started.
What they started, of course, is a plan to take down Dr. Brown. Gamby approaches her at the winter concert and invites her out for dinner afterward. He then proceeds to grab them both gin drinks, which she downs while lamenting the loss of her sons. She starts pounding the Tanqueray like a girl in a Dr. Dre video and things quickly get out of hand. Gamby seems hesitant to give her the drink in the first place. He looks uncomfortable during the entire segment, trying to reel in Brown’s lascivious behavior. Russell shows up with a video-camera spy-pen and records as Brown yells at passerby, swears like a sailor, and at Russell’s prompting, urinates on a police car.
Russell and Gamby eventually get Brown back to her hotel room. They think they’re in the clear when she flies out of the bed and attacks them both. They have a quick brawl before locking her in the bathroom and collapsing outside the door, exhausted.
As the show has progressed, it has provided insight into the character’s motivations that were previously unclear. Each protagonist is layered and multidimensional. Anyone could make a show about two white guys angry at a world where just being white and male is increasingly less prestigious. What makes Vice Principals subversive, and what makes it matter, is that these characters feel like real people. They’re not people anyone wants to be friends with, but they’re complex and damaged. McBride was particularly shaky in early episodes, but he’s finding his stride as Gamby takes on the role of the show’s heart. He’s not a good guy, by any means, but you get the idea that he’s trying to be one. In a show as mean as Vice Principals, even an attempt at goodness has to count for something.
- In his attempts to reconcile with Dr. Brown, Russell leaves flowers and chocolates in her office with a note that says “I miss our friendship”. It’s both deceitful and pathetic, and shines a light on Russell’s weaknesses.
- Gamby, Amanda, and Gamby’s daughter Janelle go out to the carnival and have a great time. It’s a fun, light-hearted little sequence.
- Kimberly Herbert Gregory is clearly having a blast playing the drunken Brown; she shouts “let’s get crunk” and “freak dances” on a middle-aged man walking by. It’s sad because of how far the character has fallen, but it’s still kind of funny to watch.