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Might Gamby be less of an asshole than we initially thought? This week’s episode of Vice Principals certainly invites us to think so. Gamby is hit with a crisis of conscience once he realizes how the arson of her home and the vandalism of her school have affected Dr. Brown. Also, he sees that she’s the only one who can motivate the North Jackson High student body to defeat archrival Percival on the gridiron. In the process, a most unlikely redeeming quality is revealed in Gamby: school pride.
Alternatively, Russell’s single-minded goal to defeat and humiliate Brown is presented as a sharp alternative to Gamby’s ambivalence. From rivals to uneasy allies and now seemingly back to rivals once again, the Gamby-Russell dynamic has been nothing if not colorful. As much as you as a viewer were convinced that you hated these two individuals, you could always rest assured that they hated each other just a bit more. Thus, the chummy bonhomie established in the previous few episodes robbed Vice Principals of a sure source of narrative tension. Now that Gamby and Russell are once again on the outs, it’ll be interesting to see where the series takes their strange relationship.
Although Gamby and Russell are prominently featured, the real focus of “Run for the Money” is Dr. Brown. In this episode, we get a glimpse of a personal life that includes two ill-tempered sons who desperately want to go back home to Philadelphia. The episode risks crossing the line of caricaturing Brown and her boys; for instance, the opening scene shows the Browns, having checked into a hotel following the burning down of their house, getting into a loud squabble in front of a petrified white family. The scene, and subsequent ones like it, demonstrate that the Vice Principals showrunners are aware of the Browns’ status as figurative and literal outsiders. As we get acquainted with them, we sympathize with their situation and, in particular, with Dr. Brown’s as a black woman in a predominantly white world. Despite her struggles, she manages to find the determination within her to shake off her troubles and delivers a rousing sermon-like speech that rallies the school to defeat Percival in the big game.
Of course, for all its high-minded exploration of Dr. Brown’s character, Vice Principals wouldn’t be living up to its lowbrow comedic leanings if the episode didn’t include scenes such as a dummy in a Percival football outfit sodomizing a North Jackson dummy while standing on a pile of manure. Unfortunately, the persistent and disturbing references to Dr. Brown as a “bitch” (or words as vulgar, if not worse) and to her obesity/physical unattractiveness continue to abound. As the series progresses, it’s easier to see that McBride and Hill don’t intend for you to sympathize with Gamby and Russell at all—in fact, the argument could be made that Brown is the real hero of the series. Gamby seems to be finding his conscience, albeit belatedly, while Russell reveals more layers of psychopathy than previously imagined. All told, “Run for the Money” was the most enjoyable and human of the series yet, and is making me re-evaluate even slightly a series I was just about prepared to write off as a misanthropic mess.