Busy Philipps as Gale, Shea Whigham as Ray.
Over at The Week, Lili Loofbourow wrote a persuasive essay arguing against … well, pretty much everything Vice Principals stands for. In its attempt to become a palatable form of “Asshole TV,” as she defines anti-comedies about despicable-yet-lovable dudes, the show “conveys the impression of innocuousness” while disguising some truly disgusting behavior, including but not limited to the “racial terrorism” of burning down a black woman’s house.
I agree with most of Loofbourow’s points, and she’s right to call out Danny McBride and Jody Hill for claiming that what they made isn’t about race or gender at all. It clearly matters that Dr. Belinda Brown is a black woman, or the show wouldn’t do the things it does with her character. Nevertheless, Vice Principals can tread water on this premise because its protagonists are so stupid and so petulant that they can’t begin to grasp the societal implications of what they’re doing — implications that the show thrusts upon them. Gamby and Russell’s awful thoughts about Dr. Brown are mostly fueled by their own narcissism, at least more so than overt prejudice. Before they were assholes, they were overgrown children, and they’ve never stopped being that.
“Run for the Money” finally finds Vice Principals approaching the right balance of funny-to-awful, enough so that it was the first episode I legitimately enjoyed. The big homecoming game against Percival High is coming up, and Gamby is all-in for his home school, even though North Jackson hasn’t fielded a decent football team in nine years. The complete sociopath that he is, Russell naturally reasons that a break in the losing streak would also be a notch in the win column for Dr. Brown, so he does everything he can to sabotage the game, including an attempt to drug the players’ water jugs with LSD.
Rivalry week brings with it some unspeakably vulgar pranks, and the veeps see an opportunity to further demean their nemesis under cover of marauding juveniles. And so, Gamby and Russell don ram masks and break into their own school to join in the orgy of destruction and graffiti. (Gamby, still unable to bring himself to root against his school, sprays Belinda’s name on the walls instead.) We also get a super-awful repetition of the C-word, one that I must admit I laughed at — Gamby’s fake modesty when he says the word is what did it for me.
But this episode is truly about Dr. Brown as she deals with the repercussions of the arson attack and reaches a boiling point with her misbehaved, private-school-educated sons. Feeling the psychological effects of cramped motel life and wanting to tamp down the obscenities usually provoked by rivalry week, Brown attempts a principal-to-principal discussion with Percival’s “pancake tit” leader, Ms. Cavanaugh. When that backfires, it’s time for Brown to take her school to church, firing them up at a pep rally with some profanity-laden gospel. (Again, we’re supposed to believe this character’s race doesn’t matter?)
All this leads to the comedic climax at the big game, which shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s both an affirmation that Vice Principals really wants to sell Gamby as a tortured good guy and a bunch of easy jokes about two grown men accidentally drugging themselves. But God help me, I love watching strange trips, and I couldn’t help but grin as Gamby and Russell journey through their own Magical Mystery Tour, waving aside adversaries with their magic fingers and bugging out at big-eyed Snodgrass. The capper to the episode, with the two huddled under the bleachers and Russell declaring that “this is our home now,” is perfect. These two men work in the gutter, and that’s where they’ll stay.
- It’s worth noting that if either of the two leads has any clue that their actions can seem racially motivated, it’s Russell. (Gamby has a mental age of 12.) But as the show has definitively established, the dude has no moral compass and his humanity is a lost cause.
- “I’mma give you my corndog.” Dayshawn, muttering something vaguely filthy just out of earshot of Ms. Snodgrass.
- That’s RJ Cyler, Earl of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, as Belinda’s older son Luke. You may not have recognized him, since he never says “dem titties.”
- By the same token that Dr. Brown’s casting as a black woman is deliberate, you’d better believe that North Jackson’s mascot is an Indian chief for a reason. The moment when it gets hung at Percival’s pep rally? That’s peak Asshole TV.