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Vice Principal – The Good Book Review

"The Breakfast Club for adults "

One of the concerns I expressed about Vice Principals when the series began is whether audiences would care enough about Neal Gamby to follow him on his misanthropic misadventures. In the last few episodes in particular, the showrunners have smoothed out the character’s rough edges—he may be crude, dictatorial and socially awkward, but behind all that lies a committed father and secretly decent guy. Seeing Gamby in this new light has helped make Vice Principals a warmer, less venomous show.

From its inception, Vice Principals has demonstrated that the adults (particularly those in a position of authority) are as bewildered when dealing with life issues as the kids themselves. “The Good Book” spotlights this theme by using the time-honored TV trope of a bottle episode: a Teacher Work Day confines Gamby, Russell, Brown and the rest to North Jackson High. Curiously enough for a show entitled Vice Principals, the characters don’t appear at the show as much as one might expect. By finding a pretense to not have the students around—who, let’s face it, are incidental at best to the series anyhow—“The Good Book” can focus on the juicy interpersonal drama between the North Jackson teachers and administrators. In fact, the episode largely operates as a grown-up version of The Breakfast Club, right down to a scene where characters have to sneak back into a room before being caught by an authority figure.

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In earlier episodes, the prospect of Gamby getting romantically involved with Ms. Snodgrass would’ve seemed farfetched. But the previous episode (“The Foundation of Learning”) established a more intimate bond between the two, a dynamic that the “The Good Book” picks right up on. Snodgrass is coyly flirtatious and deferential to Gamby, while he defends her against Hayden’s attempts to tear her down in front of the other teachers. They both play their performative gender roles so perfectly as to be saccharine—after some furtive glances and near collisions, Gamby and Snodgrass finally kiss on a rooftop. While it can’t be denied that the moment was sweet in a heartwarming sort of way, it has to be wondered whether a happier Gamnby would be good for the show’s comedic value. Or, to paraphrase Russell’s rude observation from an earlier episode, do we as an audience really want to see Gamby get his little red dick wet?

The other significant plot development in “The Good Book” is the reunification of the Brown family. This episode formally introduces us to Dascious, Dr. Brown’s estranged husband whom she left after her sons found him in flagrante delicto with another woman. (Brown actually describes it in a more colorful manner in the episode itself, but let’s go with the G-rated description instead.) Over time, Brown has been developed into a complex, sympathetic character; much of that has to do with the sterling work of Kimberly Hebert Gregory, who infuses the character with the gravitas and humanity to make her a suitable foil for Gamby and Russell’s antics. Even when the writing of the character veers into stereotypical territory, Hebert manages to steer Brown onto solid ground and make her a character you both like and respect.

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Seven episodes in, it’s hard to figure out exactly what Vice Principals is and where it’s going. This quality has its good and bad sides: the unpredictability factor makes audiences wonder what will happen next, but at the same time it makes them wonder if there’s a point to the journey itself. The tone of Vice Principals has vacillated so often in the past few episodes alone that I can’t reasonably predict how I’ll feel about the show’s final two episodes. Based on the last few, I think there’s a fair chance that I’ll like them. But whether that means the show’s first season will have been successful on its own terms is still an open question.

Rating
7.5
Pros
  • Surprising and subtle evolution of Gamby as a sympathetic figure
  • Nice shout-out to 80s classics like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Cons
  • Sweet, but somewhat schmaltzy compared to the biting tone of previous episodes
  • Sudden shifts in tone make this a hard show to predict quality wise from week to week

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