On the surface Vice Principals is just a raunchy workplace comedy, but throughout the first five episodes the show seems particularly interested in dissecting masculinity and entitlement. Both of the series’ leads struggle with the idea of what it means to be a man. Their home lives, where they feel constantly belittled, insecure, and out of control is clearly what’s driving Gamby and Russell’s desire to overthrow Dr. Brown and take control of their school. At school, the men are at the top of the food chain with an entire population of people that have to adhere to their orders, but at home they are failing at being providers, protectors, and fulfilling the demands of the typical male role.
Vice Principals shows that this sort of fragile masculinity is toxic, it effects the ways that the men interact with friends, co-workers, and love interests. Their wounded pride causes the men to feel entitled to a job they rightfully lost, compelled to deal out harsh punishments and words, and it’s why audiences haven’t been sure whether Gamby and Russell are characters that they can root for. But episodes like “The Circle” are good for the series because they at least spotlight the motivations for the characters. Just like the students discussing their feelings in The Circle, we’re able to get to the root of Gamby and Russell’s issues and at least understand why they are acting the way that they are acting.
In “The Circle” we get to see the insecurity inside Russell despite the way he peacocks while at school. At home, Russell is threatened and intimidated by a large, muscular neighbor. At work, he can dress down Gamby with brutal insults, but when trying to tell his neighbor to quiet down, Russell is sheepish and easily dismissed. Add in a wife that insists that Russell deal with the pesky neighbor, and a loud and unhappy mother-in-law, and Russell’s frustrations naturally spill over into his work life and infects his burgeoning friendship with Gamby.
It’s here that the episode takes aim at the silliness of male friendships. Gamby has trouble even recognizing that he values Russell’s friendship and that Russell has the ability to hurt his feelings. He’s clearly jealous when Russell starts hanging out with the drama teacher but won’t admit it to himself because that could be seen as weak. Dayshawn even makes a crack about the two being gay together, which is a common way other men make fun of two close male friends. It all goes back to the messy ways that masculinity distorts and stunts emotions.
“The Circle” is the best episode yet for a lot of reasons, chief among them being Walton Goggins’ increased screen time. I’ve been saying that he’s the best part of the series every week, so it was great to see him get the bulk of the episode here. His “busted by Lee Russell” song was hilarious and the highlight of the episode. Another reason I think “The Circle” succeeds is because the show presents someone who’s worse than Gamby and Russell. It’s hard to want the men to succeed over Dr. Brown but it’s easy to root for them against a racist, creepy, uber-bro like Jackie. It’s also fun that the show has officially put Gamby and Russell on the same page. I even cheered a little bit when Gamby came to back up his friend. That’s the way that your supposed to feel for the show’s protagonists.