This week’s episode of Vice Principals took us down a strange road that just had me questioning what the point of all this is. The episode was entertaining enough and pretty hilarious in parts too but what I am struggling with is what this show is actually about. Is it about two men trying to overthrow their female leader or is it about something much more sinister? The latter I think is the more likely of the two and the premise of the two men battling for the position of Principal was merely a vessel to entertain and entice Eastbound and Down fans. This weeks episode addressed some pretty interesting issues and then Danny McBride destroyed everything. Literally.
The decision by McBride and Hill to make the new Principal a black woman felt like an opportunity for them to make one of the two Vice Principals a really despicable character and my hunch was correct. Lee Russell is a misogynistic, racist animal and I found his language to be a little heavy handed at times, although that is to be expected from Jody Hill who is famed for pushing the boundaries. What is so difficult to understand and why it is so hard to side with the two men is that I haven’t really seen any reason for them to hate Dr. Brown so much other than they really don’t like her. Gamby doesn’t like her because she took his job, but Russell doesn’t like her because she is a black woman, that much is clear. She can be a bit of a ‘bitch’ at times (to borrow a word frequently used by Russell) but it’s nothing astonishingly bad. Unlike what Gamby and Russell actually do to her.
This week, Dr. Brown hires someone to come in and review staff performance levels. His presence upsets Gamby somewhat as he thinks he is there to find reasons for Brown to fire him and Russell. They decide they need to act quickly and find something incriminating about Dr. Brown so they can get her fired. They go to her house, not her office or her car, and start sniffing about. It doesn’t take Russell long to encourage Gamby to knock a couple of her nice things over and when he sees that Gamby took joy in watching a cup smash into hundreds of pieces on the floor, he pushes him even more. Soon enough, Gamby goes into a blind rage and he starts destroying everything, like a rabid animal. He rips open pillows, breaks furniture, smashes photos and trinkets and then to top it all off, Russell lights a cigarette and moves the flame from his lighter to the curtains and the whole house goes up in flames! Watching these two men rip apart a successful and well regarded woman’s family home wasn’t exactly comfortable. The manner in which they did so was animalistic and calculated and showed an evil in Russell that hasn’t been so clear until now. The two men flee the scene and Gamby, racked with guilt, struggles to continue his day while Russell, reveling in his victory, continues to smile, laugh and charm his colleagues.
Gamby goes to Russell’s house which is where we get a glimpse into his home life and there the question of why he is so full of hate starts to be answered. His home life is strained, his wife who is a nurse, is caring for her mother who is living with them. There is no sign of any children in this house, just Lee, his wife and his mother-in-law. Lee and his mother-in-law clearly do not get along and just constantly scream at each other in anger. His resentment for her and her impact on his personal life is fueling a fire that is raging inside of him. He is man who doesn’t like people impacting on his life and intends to act wildly. His remorselessness makes him seem heartless and empty, something that Gamby certainly isn’t, and Russel’s unpredictability makes him quite a terrifying character.
One scene I found to be particularly well executed was when Gamby was told to fire Miss Libby. Her story is only too common in school faculties, she is a much older lady, close to retirement who enjoys being around children and works a few hours a week on a school reception. Gamby is told that he has to fire her because she isn’t performing very well, and her inability to be up to date on IT systems and procedures makes her an easy target for Principal Brown. When Gamby tells her he has to let her go, he shows a mild compassion for her situation as he highly regards her as member of the team but he doesn’t tell her that it is Principal Brown who has told him to do this. Its a familiar situation when someone in a high powered position takes over a job from someone, they always tend to shake things up, change things and more often than not this involves trimming some fat. Sadly Miss Libby is that fat and Gamby is the knife. Keeping her hands clean of the situation Brown is left to deal with the smoldering pile of ash that is now where her home once stood.
Its interesting to see Hill and McBride yet again create a TV show that is full of unlikable characters. Gamby, Russell and Brown all have horrible elements of their personalities yet there is something about the way they are being played and orchestrated that keeps a viewer interested. Gamby’s conscience is setting him apart from Russell slightly and he is he much more likable of the two, but Russell’s fiery and explosive nature makes him more interesting to watch.