Vice Principals Season 2
Directors: David Gordon Green and Danny McBride
Starring: Danny McBride, Walton Goggins, Georgia King
Writers: Danny R. McBride & John Carcieri & Tim Saccardo
A review by Michael Walls-Kelly
Who shot Gamby?
That is the question that runs through the background — and occasionally foreground — of the second-and-final season of HBO’s Vice Principals. When the first season ended with the completely out of nowhere shooting of vice principal Neil Gamy (Danny McBride), it was both hilarious and legitimately creepy. Post-recovery Gamby running an investigation into who tried to kill him makes for a nice, propulsive throughline to take the series into its finale.
Of course, this is Vice Principals. So, a murder investigation usually takes a backseat to the much higher stakes of running a high school. In Gamby’s absence, Lee Russell (Walton Goggins) has become the sole principal of North Jackson High School. The way he runs the school matches his personality: flashy, needlessly expensive and barely concealing a brutal dictatorship behind a smile.
A few things have changed between seasons. Gamby is now friends with his ex-wife’s new husband, Ray (Shea Whigham). Russell now has a new assistant and eager enforcer named Nash (Dale Dickey). Gamby’s budding relationship with Amanda Snodgrass (Georgia King) shatters. When Gamby finally returns to work, he’s a little lost. Everything has changed, and he feels like he’s left behind.
Well, not everything has changed. Not for us, the viewers, at least. Vice Principals is still an incredibly funny show. While it doesn’t have the depth or scope of McBride’s previous HBO outing, Eastbound & Down, that’s not much of a deficit. Eastbound is one of the funniest shows ever and the fact that Vice Principals is even a worthy follow-up is good enough. McBride and Goggins completely embody their characters here. Both are playing variations on their stock characters — a prideful, blue-collar oaf and a sociopath, respectively — while mining new, individual depths.
Another great thing from season one that continues to develop here is the supporting cast. The teachers at North Jackson continue to be shown as just as quirky and almost as crazy as Gamby and Russell. The standout among the teachers is Ms. Abbott (Edi Patterson), who still has a desperate, mean girl crush on Gamby. Patterson is hilariously unhinged as she insults Snodgrass and throws herself at Gamby. Busy Phillipps still isn’t given much to do as Gamby’s ex-wife, Gale, but Russell’s wife, Christine (Susan Park), gets at least one showcase episode this season.
One big missing piece from season one is Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), the target of Gamby and Russell’s schemes. Gregory guest stars in the first episode of season two and, seemingly, finishes off her character’s role in the series. It’s unfortunate that we had to lose her. Brown was a great character and a fun foil for our leads. Gregory bounced off of McBride and Goggins so well and losing that kind of dynamic is unfortunate. But it makes sense. Pushing Brown out of her job was such a main thrust of the first season, once that’s been accomplished there’s not much point to keeping her around. And without the ostensible third lead, we’re given a little more room to deal with the partnership, rivalry, and tension between Gamby and Russell.
Ultimately, McBride and Goggins are the stars of the show and presumably the reason you’d be watching. They both deliver masterfully. Season two spends time with Gamby, showing his growth that started back in season one. He takes a student under his wing, making up for a past mistake. Russell, however, becomes more pitiable. We learn about some desperate and slimy things he did in the past, and it absolutely informs the character in the present. He’s a pathetic guy, but he’s fun as hell to watch.
It will be interesting to watch the entire series — filmed as a whole and separated into two seasons — once the whole show wraps up. Season two seems to be headed towards a fun, surprising and completely bonkers conclusion. I just hope we get some real answers to our top questions. Will Gamby become a good person and atone for his past mistakes? Will Russell realize he’s in the wrong and get his comeuppance? And who the hell shot Gamby?
Verdict: Watch this show! Anytime we get a series from Danny McBride, Jody Hill and David Gordon Green we should take notice. Vice Principals is no exception. A few filler episodes aside (which I think are still incredibly funny), this show is basically a tight, focused miniseries. It’s a great setting filled with entertaining characters. I’ll definitely be a little sad once the series wraps up, knowing we’ll probably never return to North Jackson. I have a feeling that this cast and crew can deliver an appropriate and satisfying ending.