Vice Principals: End of the Line Review
Here's our review of the season one finale of HBO's Vice Principals.
This Vice Principals review contains spoilers.
Vice Principals, Season One, Episode 9
Vice Principals ended its first season, and due to Danny McBride and Jody Hill’s straightforward proclamation that the show will only run for 18 episodes, we’re halfway through the series. When the show debuted, it was met with a tepid reaction from critics, who lamented the mean-spirited nature of the writing and the lack of likable characters. However, as the show progressed, Vice Principals’ Neal Gamby, Lee Russell, and Dr. Belinda Brown proved to be multi-dimensional, painfully real characters.
Though the show may have been hit or miss with its humor, it presented three people struggling in their personal lives, making their focus on their professional lives all the more important and relatable. After taking Dr. Brown out into the woods and revealing their incriminating footage and master plan, Russell ensures Dr. Brown that it’s nothing personal, only business. Yes, Gamby and Russell are motivated by the power and prestige of Dr. Brown’s job, but only because they feel emasculated, belittled and small at home, so whether they’d like to admit it or not, it is personal.
Kimberly Hebert Gregory was fantastic as Dr. Brown this season, and her reaction after realizing that Gamby and Russell had won felt authentic and a bit heartbreaking. What makes the whole scene feel even more uncomfortable is that you can tell Gamby isn’t fully on board with ruining Dr. Brown’s life anymore. Perhaps after witnessing her vulnerability and sensing similarities in his own life, Gamby has softened on Dr. Brown, and his sad eyes and embarrassment during the shakedown with Russell clearly shows the difference between the two men. Gamby appears to have shame, Russell does not, but shame isn’t enough to give Gamby a pass.
In general, I think Gamby is one of the reasons that this show struggled to connect with people. He behaves like McBride’s former HBO creation Kenny Powers, but without any of the swagger or charm. Gamby is petty, condescending, and rude to countless people on the show, and just because he apologizes to characters like Ms. Snodgrass or makes symbolic gestures to people like Ray, it shouldn’t excuse his behavior. It’s hard to believe Snodgrass and Gamby would be sharing a kiss after just minutes of screen time passed between Gamby cruelly telling her she was below him. It’s insane to think Ray would be so respectful to Gamby while Gamby acts like nothing but an ass. I guess what I am saying is that I don’t think Gamby ever truly earns his moments of enlightenment, that they only ever come when things are going his way. When life is good to Gamby is only when Gamby is good to others.
Perhaps that’s why the episode ends so shockingly, with Gamby lying in a pool of his own blood in the parking lot. It would a striking move on the show’s part, if the whole “character left to die” cliffhanger wasn’t already so played out this year. Based on Russell’s strange comments trying to assert that Gamby was the mastermind of their removal of Dr. Brown, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were behind the shooting. Gamby and Russell’s warped friendship was definitely one of the better and oddly sweet aspects of the season, but having them at odds will create better conflict going forward.
Overall, Vice Principals has been solid, if unremarkable. The show’s leads are enormously talented, and the character driven episodes in the heart of the season really justified the show’s existence, but there’s still something that’s off-putting about the series, and with so many other options in the era of Peak TV, season two of Vice Principals will have to do more to stand out if it wants to be head of the class.