Vice Principals (2016)
HBO's 'Vice Principals': TV's Best Modern Dark Comedy
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
You know, it’s funny that some reviews of this show have pointed out that its off-putting for starring two white guys working to destroy a black woman to get her job. However, for me, that does not cross my mind when I watch it, nor should anyone else dismiss it solely because of that. Why is it that when different races collaborate, the work is ignored, and the media hijacks the conversation and turns it into a debate about the ethnic background of the actors? We are more than the color of our skin, and we should focus on the merits of the team who brought Vice Principals (2016) to the small screen and the context in which it was made—dark comedy. A genre meant to be contentious, outrageous, and bold.
Instead, Vice Principals is a show that centers around three talented, underrated actors in a brilliant collaboration, creating something special in a time where entertainment seems so one-note, riddled with political agendas and tired narratives. Belinda Brown’s (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) character, along with Danny McBride and Walton Goggins, could be replaced with any race or gender, and the material would still be excellent. It is that good.
Superb Acting and Delivery From McBride, Goggins, and Gregory
Vice Principals debauchery takes place on high school grounds among angsty teenagers and even worse teachers, created by life-long friends Jody Hill and Danny McBride, who brought us the equally great Eastbound & Down. Irreverent, awkward, and gleefully diabolical, its unequivocally unlike anything else on TV. Most of my praise is rooted in the shows casting, writing, and delivery. Everyone from the top-billed, Gamby, Russell, and Miss Brown, down to the secondary characters such as the chatty lunch service worker Dayshawn and neurotic office assistant, Miss Swift, are colorful and engaging personalities.
They are never used as a filler and are written with necessity and importance to shape this entertaining world McBride, and the other writers have imagined. Just about every actor, lead and supporting, are genuinely nuanced, relatable, and hilarious. Although, the humor of Vice Principals is not for the easily offended. There is a reason a comedy like this is uncommon to see or be made, which makes me appreciate it all much more.
The material takes a jab at race, class, gender stereotypes, disabled people, and revels in satirizing toxic male masculinity, with a touch of McBride humor to make for a rare and satisfying dark comedy. Nonetheless, one of the best and most consistent parts about the show is the actor’s delivery of its wonderfully controversial script. Danny McBride plays the ill-tempered, rash, authoritarian (in every aspect of his life), and obsessed with proving his manhood, Neal Gamby. McBride delivers lines of threatening mouthed swearing to the children of North Jackson as to ironically not be inappropriate, has many expressively aggressive facial reactions of rage, and even touching moments of sympathy for such an unlikable persona.
On the other hand, Lee Russell is a different breed of toxic-masculinity and is by far the most complex character in the series. Russell is well-liked, calculating, wicked, and holds deep reserves of rage and perversity. With the help of the painfully underrated Walton Goggins, Russell’s delivery is mesmerizing, dangerously soft-spoken, provoking us to marvel at him and the language. And in doing so, with intense and surreal energy, you want to understand how this man came to be. Russell is a character not to miss out on watching. From how he purses his lips, bats his eyes and struts through the high school hallways and in his troubled life.
The Break-Out Star Kimberley Gregory as Belinda Brown
Then, there is the commanding principal Belinda Brown played by Kimberley Gregory to round off the leading cast of Season 1. As Belinda, she gets her house burned down, is cruelly undermined at every corner by her two subordinates who will stop at nothing short of plain evil behavior to take her job. This sassy, no-nonsense performance, is some of the best acting in the show—Gregory carries her own with seasoned actors McBride and Goggins.
We have seen both actors portray pretty morally ambiguous and outrageous characters in the past (The Hateful Eight, This Is The End), yet, Gregory is new to the raunchy boy’s club. She handles Belinda like a natural with a burst of confidence, allowing us to see the brilliance in their collaboration. She is rigorous, dynamic, hilarious, and earnest at all the right times that play so well off of McBride and Goggins’s deceitful and wild behavior to convey a relatable scenario even amid its ridiculous circumstances.
A Sign of Great Writing
Though, even when we take a step back and look at these two ambitious and incredibly flawed men in their own right, as you get through more episodes, they are surprisingly more sympathetic. The primary way the show accomplishes this is by pairing Gamby with Russell. As with the many instances when Gamby is reluctant to go too far in their battle for the principal position when Russell will and does anything, he deems necessary to achieve it.
Therefore, his developed appeal attests to Vice Principal’s skillful writing. McBride and his team crafted a balance between a flawed and sympathetic protagonist in Vice Principals to make for some spectacular off-color and expletive humor paired with unique performances anyone a fan of dark comedy will enjoy.