This Vice Principals review contains spoilers.
Vice Principals Season 2 Episode 9
Heading into tonight’s episode of Vice Principals, co-creator and star Danny McBride described the series finale as “unhinged and fucked up” but he might as well have been talking about the series as a whole. Especially in its deranged first season, Vice Principals was a gleefully twisted look at what happens when toxic masculinity is mixed with the expectations of two entitled losers. Between burning houses down and blackmailing their boss, Gamby and Russell let their IDs rage, two formerly emasculated men devolving into childish villains. Though at times it could be over the top, Vice Principals could be both simultaneously hilarious and eerily prescient in the age of Trump.
However, season 2 has transcended being merely a dark, nihilistic comedy and instead has tried to explore whether wrongheaded, petty men like Gamby and Russell could learn the error of their ways and progress. After watching both characters try to behave like better men (well, mostly just Gamby), Vice Principals seems to answer that question as: not really. Bleeding out in the hallway of North Jackson, Russell can’t help but admit how fun all of their wrongdoing was, with Gamby agreeing, even if it had led to that particularly awful moment. But in the end, Gamby gets the girl and a cushy new gig, but does he deserve it? Does Russell deserve a good job at the mall that allows him to lord over others like a catty tyrant? Probably not, even if Gamby did grow ever so slightly into a more understanding blowhard.
It’s an ending that leaves a weird taste in my mouth but it isn’t surprising considering everything that’s come before it. Vice Principals has dared its audience to laugh at the horrible actions of its leads, even if it makes you feel cruel in the process. There shouldn’t have been any expectations that these men would learn a lesson at the end of this story. Even though Gamby and Russell didn’t truly change, it still doesn’t mean that their journey wasn’t fun to watch. Even if the Whodunit at the heart of the season clearly pointed to Abbott, the Fatal Attraction-style horror that’s brought to this finale was the perfect denouement to the thriller atmosphere that was building all season long.
Abbot’s part in the finale fulfills the “unhinged” promise, but the “fucked up” material comes courtesy of Chekov’s tiger. Personally, I felt like a bad CGI tiger attacking a nameless trainer was a tad much and unnecessary since Abbott was so effectively scary, but others may be charmed by the craziness of it all. I would have used the tiger’s screen time to maybe give Snodgrass a more fitting ending, but maybe I’m just over-intellectualizing a madcap comedy. I should probably stop lamenting unresolved character arcs and make a note about how much I enjoyed the jokes about Abbott using Gamby’s bathroom or the weird way McBride was yelling “my toolshed” while he was stuck in that hole. It’s the little things, you know?
Even if the finale was a little much, at least it was true to the spirit of the series, going out with the same “what the fuck?” glee that it trafficked in since the get-go. In a search for power, Gamby and Russell found the power of friendship, or something like that. It was a shocking, silly, sometimes uncomfortable ride that had the good sense not to over stay its welcome, so kudos for that. Also, major points for delivering an Eastbound and Down reunion in its final minutes. Personally, I’ll always be fond of this show for showing me just how much of a treasure Walton Goggins is. I was hoping Vice Principals would have delivered a bigger message on the topics it broached, but I guess there’s nothing wrong with settling for being dark, unapologetic, and most importantly, funny.