HBO series such as “Summer Heights High,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Girls” succeed in tapping into niche audiences and twisting comedic tropes into something new. The shows aired by HBO, however, are not for everyone: The crude humor and plotlines inspired largely by news headlines may hit too close to home for some. The second season of “Vice Principals” does little to deviate from this trend.
For HBO fans of the first season — spoilers ahead — “Vice Principals” does not disappoint: It strikes a perfect balance between harmless humor and insightful criticisms of modern society. While it is outwardly a comedy, “Vice Principals” touches on more serious, relevant issues, including racism and white privilege. That the show can make some of this material funny is outstanding.
Though impressive, it is unsurprising, as Danny McBride, one of the creators of “Vice Principals,” along with Jody Hill, has worked with dark material in the past. He is known for his acting in “Eastbound & Down,” a show which attempts to put a comedic twist on the lives of individuals with substance abuse.
In “Vice Principals,” McBride stars as Neil Gamby, the cantankerous, widely unpopular vice principal of North Jackson High School. Gamby goes up against his co-vice principal Lee Russell, played by Walton Goggins, for promotion to be principal. Given their unpopularity in the school community, however, Gamby and Russell are both passed over for the promotion, and instead an outsider, Dr. Belinda Brown, played by Kimberly Herbert Gregory, is hired. Much to the dismay of the vice-principal pair, Brown is instantly well-liked, so the two conspire to ruin Brown’s reputation so that Russell can take over her position.
Gamby and Russell’s dislike of Brown does not solely stem from the fact that she, an outsider, was chosen over them for the promotion. The pair, who express racist and misogynistic beliefs throughout the series, are critical of Brown due to her identity as a successful black woman. The series’s exploration of racist attitudes and the instability of masculine ideals may be construed as insensitive, given the relevance of these topics in today’s political climate. However, the series’s directors portray Gamby and Russell as unintelligent, ignorant characters, drawing attention to the absurdity of their beliefs and highlighting their insecurities.
The first season of the show ends with a masked figure shooting Gamby, leaving him for dead in the high school parking lot. While Gamby is recovering, Russell takes over as the de facto principal at North Jackson High School following Brown’s departure.
The second season picks up with Russell and Gamby continuing to play the show’s villains, but Brown is visibly absent. This makes the lessons of the show less pointed, as there is no neutralizing force to offset the negativity of these characters.
On his path to discovering his assassin, Gamby begins to recognize some of his mistakes and attempt to make amends with the people whom he has hurt in his past. This journey is not one without opposition, however: Russell acts as a negative influence on Gamby, hindering his endeavor toward self-improvement. Russell continues to prove himself to be the most evil character on this show, but he possesses a degree of affection for Gamby. How that ultimately manifests is, however, strange and completely unpredictable.
However, the show’s second season is more mundane and less organized than its first. Some of the crucial plot points, such as the identity of Gamby’s shooter, remain ambiguous. Throughout the season, viewers get to see how the dynamic changes between Russell and Gamby, an ever-shifting relationship that provides a much-needed break from the constant vacuum of negativity present in the first season.
All in all, “Vice Principals” succeeds in what it set out to do. The writers launched germane and well-thought-out attacks on many elements of modern society while maintaining comedic undertones.