Vice Principals Recap: Field Trippin’

Vice Principals

The Field Trip
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Kimberly Hebert Gregory as Dr. Belinda Brown, Walton Goggins as Lee Russell, Danny McBride as Neal Gamby. Photo: HBO

You guys, I don’t think Vice Principals is about a rivalry between vice-principals anymore. In this Danny McBride–directed episode, we follow Neil Gamby on his own ill-conceived adventure and barely see Lee Russell at all. That’s too bad, because Walton Goggins and his Southern-fried potty mouth are proving to be more interesting than the familiar McBride shtick. The more I see of Gamby — his abrasive infantilism and his Trump-like categorical denial of the blindingly obvious — the less I like him, even in that comedic-antihero sort of way.

In short order, Gamby resumes his crushing on pretty blonde English teacher Ms. Snodgrass — a funny name that she seems to have for the simple reason that it’s funny. After discovering Snodgrass will chaperone an upcoming field trip, the ever-professional VP of discipline bullies history teacher Mr. Hayden (Mike O’Gorman) into bringing him along, thereby creating awkward times for everyone. Gamby quickly becomes an intolerable presence on the trip, dropping profanity in front of the students, interfering with Mr. Hayden’s lesson plans, and inadvertently giving the kids easy access to the massive amount of booze he bought for his hotel suite.

It’s only when Gamby snaps into action to track down those delinquent kids that he comes halfway to redemption, but by this point, the faculty has already snuffed him out of their socializing plans. (Ms. Snodgrass has even insulted him to his face.) Gamby’s general creepiness around Ms. Snodgrass — courtesy of Russell’s intelligence dossier, he knows several uncomfortably personal things about her that he unsubtly works into conversation — makes her sympathetic come-around a hard pill to swallow, unless it’s meant to be read ironically. Either way, the episode smacks of precisely the sort of wheel-spinning sitcom plot that this limited-run show was supposed to avoid.

One crucial plot point does arise: Fellow faculty chaperone Ms. Abbott (Edi Patterson) discovers Gamby’s secret file on Snodgrass, potentially jeopardizing his and Russell’s plan to take over the school from the shadows. It’s left open how exactly Gamby deals with this problem, but it could be fun to see Ms. Abbott become another antagonist (or ally) to the dynamic duo.

Less fun is the way Ms. Abbott is portrayed throughout the episode, essentially as a Gamby groupie who comes on to him several times before finally sleeping with him. Gamby’s inherent unlikeability means he doesn’t have the right to be so disgusted with himself for having sex with a female co-worker. Vice Principals seems to place Ms. Abbott even lower on the social pecking order than Gamby himself, thereby undoing the chief joke: that he’s a total loser who’s convinced himself otherwise. Am I being too hard on the guy for regretting a one-night stand? Not when the joke seems to point to a general inconsistency in the show’s approach to its subject matter. Just last week, these guys were committing arson to further their cause. Now Gamby is back to being a lovable man-child? Since they’ve crossed that line, I would prefer Vice Principals to go dark or go home. Otherwise, what have we truly learned here?

Class Notes:

  • Gamby, anti-intimidator: “Let’s see who thinks it’s funny for grown men to be hit in the face with meat.”
  • Best laugh of the night was Gamby’s deer-in-headlights look, after telling Snodgrass he’s “really into last names,” and she asks him what his means.
  • I thought this episode was going in a much different direction once Gamby started arguing with Mr. Hayden over the acceptability of having actors portray slaves on the history-village plantation.
  • That hotel is way too nice for a public-school field trip. I find it hard to believe Dr. Brown would approve of such an outrageous line item on the budget. Maybe she can’t argue, what with her house having burned to the ground.
  • About that climax: Just saying, that’s quite a sex position for high-school students. I don’t consider myself a prude, but damn … maybe slow it down a bit, kids.

Vice Principals Recap: Field Trippin’