Vice Principals Recap: Burning Down the House

Danny McBride as Gamby, Kimberly Hebert Gregory as Dr. Brown, Walton Goggins as Russell. Photo: HBO
Vice Principals
Episode Title
A Trusty Steed
Editor’s Rating

In the second installment of Definitely Not Eastbound & Down, we learn the depths to which eternal second-fiddles Gamby and Russell will sink to push out their archrival, newly instated principal Dr. Brown. After breaking into her luxurious house to "gather intel," the pair quickly escalates their criminal activities until they've destroyed every object of value, and, for the pièce de résistance, they burn the house itself to the ground.

There's a definite shock to the episode, especially once the damage starts: The pilot gave no indication as to how far series creators Danny McBride and Jody Hill were willing to push these characters. Their appetite for destruction garnered some laughs from me, mostly for the obvious glee Walton Goggins takes as Russell eggs Gamby on: "Whatchu gonna break next? Where you gonna go?" We also see a hint that Gamby may suffer from PTSD — the noise of helicopters and bombs falling on the soundtrack is a big flag — which adds a new, if not entirely imaginative wrinkle to his backstory.

But after the initial realization of "holy crap, these maniacs are destroying this woman's house!" ends, Russell and Gamby's actions become too outlandish to take seriously. Does Vice Principals plan to keep upping the stakes of its cartoon shenanigans? As it is, we don't need to treat Gamby and Russell as though they're real people anymore, because real people don't burn down houses after getting passed over for promotions.

Tonally, the house sequence signals a major shift in the series. The first act of "A Trusty Steed" keeps up the pretense of realism by attempting to justify why Dr. Brown might have driven Gamby to such extremes: Now that she essentially owns him, she can command him to do things like fetch biscuits for co-workers every morning and fire a beloved longtime administrator. She carts out a mute "evaluator" (Danny Boushebel) to trail the veeps, spooking them into a state of paranoia about their jobs. By episode's end, though, she completely reverses course to embrace Gamby and Russell as the only subordinates she can trust. Aside from Goggins, Kimberly Hebert Gregory continues to be the most promising element of Vice Principals, gradually revealing more of Dr. Brown's sadism hidden under that phony smile.

We learn more about Russell's life, too: his strange marriage to the heretofore unseen Christine (Susan Park), and his open feud with a Korean mother-in-law who doesn't speak English. The scene of Goggins hocking a loogie into her tea, in addition to being deeply disturbing, tells us all we need to know about his character. He prefers to do his scheming from the shadows, Littlefinger-style, where he can embrace the satisfaction of revenge without detection. I won't be surprised if Russell finds a way to publicly pin the arson entirely on Gamby, thereby disposing of his onetime rival for good.

Whatever Russell's sinister plans may be, it doesn't seem like anything is destined to end well for these pair of second bananas. I'm prepared to take bets on whether or not they end the series by burning down the entire school. Of course, the real question will be if anyone still cares enough by then.

Class Notes:

  • My favorite moment of the night: Dayshawn's reaction upon seeing Gamby and Russell emerge from a secret forest meeting together.
  • More Gamby childishness: "Fuck your face. Fuck your butt."
  • I'll admit it: It's clever that Gamby uses his side gig teaching driver's ed as a chauffeuring service.
  • We get more hipster racism this week, as Gamby assumes Russell's wife can't speak English. Coming so soon after last week's affirmative-action quip, this doesn't bode well. I get that this stuff is a well-defined aspect of Jody Hill's humor (playing off stereotypes of Southern ignorance, perhaps?), but it's still tiring, to say the least.
  • How pathetic is Gamby? Once he's brought himself around to the idea of stealing and profiting off Dr. Brown's jewelry, the best use he can find for it is erasing his daughter's horse-training debts. He doesn't even pawn the brooch for cash first, but offers the whole thing as a barter, face down in the sand.