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Let’s not mince words: Vice Principals can be an uncomfortable show to watch. This stands to reason as the show’s titular leads, Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins), are deeply unpleasant people. Episode three of the series, “The Field Trip,” focuses on one of the vice principals as Gamby forces himself into a history field trip in order to get closer to newly arrived English teacher Amanda Snodgrass (Georgia King). Separating Russell from Gamby doesn’t make the latter act any better, but “The Field Trip” at least serves as something of a respite from the primary (and somewhat racially charged) plot of the previous episode. With that said, if you were hoping that the focus on Gamby would help you to like him or the show a bit more, then you’d be sadly mistaken.
If nothing else, the impression one has as a Vice Principals viewer concerning Gamby’s awfulness is confirmed by the characters on screen. Neither students nor faculty have a high opinion of Gamby, and you even get the sense that his daughter thinks her stepdad is cooler. McBride is talented and sensitive enough of an actor to pull a character like this off—after all, Gamby and Kenny Powers are cut from the same conceptual cloth. The difference is that Powers had a charisma that made him interesting to watch even while he was being terrible, while Gamby reminds us too much of the grating people we encounter in our daily lives. Give McBride points for verisimilitude, but three episodes in one feels even more repelled by Gamby than when the series began.
Russell plays a minor, yet significant, role in “The Field Trip.” Knowing that Russell has dossiers on everyone at the school, Gamby asks him for one on Snodgrass. Naturally, Russell denies Gamby (they are sworn archenemies, after all) but later fulfills the request without explanation. The relationship between the two vice principals in Vice Principals continues to be inconsistent; I thought perhaps Russell did it to sabotage Gamby with false information, but Gamby is, in fact, able to use the information to impress Snodgrass (at least for a time). Or maybe Russell knew that Gamby would be careless with the information and be implicated with it—but if that was the case, how would getting Gamby in trouble help him in his battle against Dr. Brown? The fact that what motivates the show’s two main characters, aside from an abiding hatred of everyone around them, remains fuzzy this far into the series betrays a lack of understanding from the showrunners themselves.
The actual events of the third Vice Principals episode aren’t important in and of themselves: teachers and students go on a field trip; teachers shun and students taunt Gamby; some students get drunk and go on a sexcapade, forcing the teachers to look for them. The pertinent emotional information we get from the episode is that Snodgrass thinks Gamby is an asshole and tells him so to his face. That scene was somewhat of a relief, as it confirmed that the Vice Principals writers aren’t depicting Snodgrass as the pure-of-heart Mary Sue who sees the teddy bear inside Gamby’s gruff exterior. In fact, the show seems poised to delve further into the troubling implications of the Snodgrass binder, which will further expose Gamby for the creepy stalker he is. When the moment of truth arrives, will Gamby react by showing more glimpses of his latent humanity or will he become the full-blown monster he’s perpetually on the verge of becoming? For now, time will tell—and because I’ve committed to writing reviews of this series for the rest of the reason, I’ll be there to chronicle the end result.