Vice Principals Recap: 12 O’Clock Man

Vice Principals

The Foundations of Learning
Season 1 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating *****
Kimberly Hebert Gregory as Dr. Brown, Walton Goggins as Russell, Danny McBride as Gamby. Photo: HBO

This sixth episode of Vice Principals breaks one of its own cardinal rules. Never before has Gamby proven himself capable of speaking to his crush, Ms. Snodgrass, like a normal human, but in “The Foundations of Learning,” he’s able to conduct himself in a manner befitting an actual adult (or at least a slightly older teenager). Snodgrass is suddenly the one playing the fool, trying to prolong her secret relationship with Bill Hayden long past the moment when he not-so-subtly indicated he’d grown bored with her. It takes the idiot who’s been making uncomfortable overtures all season — with an assist by his sudden motocross obsession — to snap her out of her funk. If dating Gamby is her solution, though, she might want to invest in a therapist instead.

Gamby, whose priorities are in a jumble from episode to episode, decides that the most important thing is going any lengths necessary to win back his daughter’s heart. That includes finally embracing her Jody Hill–esque love of motocross by buying a brand-new motorcycle, then attempting to pull off a dangerous trick to show up her moto-pro stepdad, Ray. “I will master his talents and render him useless,” Gamby declares. (The guy goes whole-hog on everything, even parenting.) And so, he strikes a deal with Snodgrass, who we learn was a moto fiend in her youth: She’ll teach him how to 12 O’Clock (you know, like these guys) in exchange for a bit of schedule-swapping. They grow close in the process, but Danny McBride and Georgia King have exceedingly poor romantic chemistry, largely stemming from the fact that this development comes out of nowhere. I’m not so sure Gamby needs to wind up in a happy place for this show to work, anyway.

We also get the most overt attempt yet to bring down Dr. Brown, when Gamby and Russell set a trap for her to dig her own grave in front of the school board. They hide a shipment of 600 textbooks, frame a longtime English teacher who’s a beloved fixture of the school, then wait for Brown to file a formal accusation before returning the books right back to the warehouse. It’s a pretty diabolical scheme, relying both on Dr. Brown’s own uncontrollable temper and the faculty’s barely concealed contempt for her aggressive management style. The exchange where the teacher corrects Brown’s grammar is the type of gutsy high-wire act that Vice Principals should employ more.

Disappointingly, we get very little of Gamby and Russell together in this episode, despite last week’s protracted makeup session. What little time they share does lead to the episode’s biggest laugh, as they fight on their lifting machines in the textbook warehouse, cameras positioned on the machines themselves like the world’s saddest go-kart race. Although the pair is ostensibly back together, Gamby seems less and less interested in these dastardly schemes, and another big rift seems to be on the way — for whatever good it will do a show that’s losing life force by the week.

Nevertheless, it’s satisfying to see how Russell and Brown’s story wraps: With a reprisal of Russell’s old “spit in the drink” gambit from episode two, only this time he gets caught. I like the idea of this character as a perpetual fate-tempter, someone who does unnecessarily reckless things just because he can, much like those Home Alone burglars who get caught because they insist on leaving calling cards at every house they rob. For a show that focuses on shifting power dynamics, it makes sense to probe the ways that power-hungry people act when they don’t have it, because it opens up the obvious question of whether they’d know what to do if they ever got some. The fact that Brown reveals herself to be a petty and easily manipulated boss suggests an even harsher reading of the Vice Principals philosophy: Maybe no one should have power. Maybe no one knows how to wield it.

Class Notes:

  • Gamby’s nasty treatment of his assistant is starting to grate on me, as did the way FX’s Baskets treated Martha. I think this is an example of the kind of asshole-humor that’s performed in a vacuum, where the perpetrators can’t envision how it must feel to the target, as opposed to the rivalry with Dr. Brown, where the show is fully aware of what transpires.
  • How not to flirt with a woman: “I’ll bet you were just as attractive at 13 as you are now.”
  • Seems Gamby had the right assumption about Snodgrass and Hayden back in episode three. English and History go together pretty well, after all.
  • Ray’s utterly nonplussed, chummy reactions to Gamby’s attempts to upstage him remind me a bit of the Crab Man from My Name Is Earl, or even a Southern riff on Ned Flanders.
  • In spite of everything, I find Gamby’s concern for his daughter to be kind of adorable, especially his reservations about her doing a “redneck” sport like motocross. After he admits he took money from her college fund to buy his own bike, he counters that, now that she’s doing the sport, “I assumed you weren’t going to college anyway.”

Vice Principals Recap: 12 O’Clock Man