Hit or Sh**: HBO’s VICE PRINCIPALS
Orson Welles once said “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” The reason why cable comedy, and I mean good cable comedy, is so funny is the restrictions placed upon it. With broadcast restrictions in place, shows are forced to be clever in ways that are completely foreign to the sensationalist and improvisational world of modern feature comedies. After all, it takes some acrobatic precision at times to navigate FCC guidelines, and anyone who can still pump out quality content despite this deserves all the praise they can get.
HBO is not cable, however. This is a service that thrives on softcore porn and involuntary vivisections. So when the premium giant hands yet another series over to their boy Danny McBride (creator and star of EASTBOUND & DOWN) , you can expect him to do whatever the fuck he wants. And boy does he. VICE PRINCIPALS’ pilot episode is easily one of the most outrageous productions I’ve seen, be it for the small or big screens, in a good while.
And this is coming from a guy whose favorite Youtube video is called “Vomit Cake”
McBride stars as high school Vice Principal Gamby, a martinet of the most malignant caliber. His harsh methods make him an easy villain compared to the gentle and affable Vice Principal Russell (Walton Goggins). When the current principal (Bill Murray) retires, the two VPs engage in a savage tug of war over who will take his place. However, when the seat is instead offered to no-nonsense Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), Gamby and Russell are forced to unite to overthrow their new boss and create a vacancy in her highly coveted position.
McBride is deliciously over the top in his performance. “Despicable” doesn’t even begin to describe Gamby’s system of rule. He actively sabotages his own institution to throw his colleagues under the bus, and he relentlessly exploits both students and faculty to get what he wants. Russell is no better, but he’s clever enough to never let others see his inner rat shine.
Together, the two men spew enough shocking rhetoric to make your average Trump rally blush, and there were moments where I couldn’t believe I was hearing some lines correctly . At one point, Gamby threatens to bring in “some bucks” to “turn out” a student unless he agrees to follow one of his schemes. It’s this juxtaposition of McBride’s aggro with the innocence of the child actors that creates one of the most bewilderingly mad television episodes I’ve ever seen.
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Of course, Gamby has other distractions in the way of his rather modest dreams of oppressing America’s youth. Gamby fights with Gale (Busy Phillips), his equally vile ex-wife, for his daughter’s affection. Caught in the crossfire is Ray (Shea Whigham), Gale’s overly friendly new husband, whose sympathetic offerings of peace are ruthlessly shot down by Gamby. Additionally, Gamby must suppress his baleful tendencies around Ms. Snodgrass (Georgia King), his politically correct co-worker whom he holds an unrequited attraction towards. If the pilot is anything to go by, both of these subplots promise just as much vitriolic shenanigans as the main conflict.
VICE PRINCIPALS is far from experimental, but it certainly is daring in it the content it chooses to show. Rather than simply try to use HBO’s platform to match the level of crudity seen in films, VICE PRINCIPALS opts instead to crank the dial up to 11 in its absurdity. This is a show that aims to offend, and while a lot of this may be due to the context of its setting, it certainly succeeds at this goal at a level far greater than most other works out there. It remains to be seen if the schtick will hold for an entire season, but smart money is on this ending with nothing less than a riot.
VICE PRINCIPALS airs on Sundays on HBO