Vice Principals requires some heavy lifting from its cast. There’s no laugh track and there are no simplistic jokes. The humor lives and dies by how well the audience can relate with and understand the characters. That empathy is required to adequately feel the character’s pain and comprehend sometimes insanely irrational behavior. That adds a layer most comedies just don’t have. It’s also a show about average folks who take their little corner of the world way too seriously because they have nothing else. Episode 2 of the second season focuses on Gamby (Danny McBride) taking action to find the culprit who shot him in the season one finale.
This episode opens in the school kitchen with Gamby’s semi-friend DeShawn (Sheaun McKinney) reminding the audience he was the one that saved Gamby’s life. With his sneakers still caked with Gamby’s blood, he takes on a bet to see how fast he can stab a knife between his fingers. It doesn’t end well. This cuts directly into the opening intro. Sometimes the cold open can be unrelated like this, but they always seems to land a big laugh to prepare audiences for what’s to come.
“Slaughter” is the title of this episode and that has a few different meanings as things progress. Gamby, for instance, locates one of his suspects who works at a slaughterhouse. Lee Russell (played excellently by Walton Goggins) has a slaughter of his own by the end of the episode too. The most compelling aspect of this episode is how series writers Danny McBride and Jody Hill reveal how these characters deal with confrontation in their own ways. It’s quite clear at this point Gamby is personal growth is the greater of the two leads, based on how he eventually turns things around, but it’s also becoming clear he can only reach his potential when he teams up with Russell. These team-ups typically result in pushing close ones away and doing very bad things. It’s a part of a recurring question the show poses: Is getting what you want worth it, if you’re alone in the end? This episode gets the ball rolling towards an answer, which is a surprise given Gamby’s reduced role as vice principal under Russell.
Fans who dug Russell/Gamby antics that have ended in burned down houses or other illegal acts should dig this episode. When they’re allowed to break the rules, like they do in this episode, the pair tends to have a twisted sense of right and wrong. It brings them closer together, almost like rebellious kids whose friendship is based solely on getting into trouble. The problem Russell/Gaby get into is that they’re adults and should know better. Then again, that’s where half the fun comes from.
New character Nash (Dale Dickey) gets more screen time this episode as she helps Gamby with his case. The showrunners are doing well to establish she’s not quite as tough as she lets on, which adds a nice juxtaposition between her and Gamby. She’s like Gamby, but she’s all talk and possibly isn’t even aware she’s a pushover. It’s an interesting way to shine a light on Gamby and how his intense need for control and order is unhealthy. On the flip side, season one proved Gamby was tough as nails and now he can finally show others how his approach is a good thing.
Given how repetitive TV comedies can be, this show has been a breath of fresh air due to it rejiggering the character roles and dynamics. At its core though, it’s about two deeply troubled men who want a little happiness, at apparently any cost. This episode suggests they’re willing to burn it all down if it means they can still be kings.
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