When the students are away, the teachers will play, but all those hookups and lunchtime gossip don’t go away when North Jefferson High School conducts its annual Teacher Work Day. Instead, adults sink to the level of the children they’re usually tasked with controlling. Unfortunately, “The Good Book” is further evidence that Vice Principals will have a hard time rising above mediocrity for the rest of the season.
The problem with isolating all the major characters in the school together, each with their cute little story lines, is that it reveals just how fundamentally uninteresting most of them are. Apart from Gamby, Russell, and Dr. Brown — who at least have the virtue of their elemental power struggle to distinguish them — everyone is driven by petty, sitcom-y grievances: jealousy (Ms. Abbott and Bill Hayden), mild infatuation (Snodgrass), the desire to get high (Brown’s kids). A series that began with a thousand think pieces accusing it of pushing bad-taste comedy too far has somehow, by its seventh episode, become a milquetoast affair.
That’s partially due to the softening of Gamby, who has completed his transition from Trump-ian man-child to full-on romantic lead and brave daddy. Rejected by his daughter after messing up motocross, he opens “The Good Book” by resigning his claim to fatherhood (handing over a picture of her ultrasound is certainly one way to do that) before spending the school day flirting with Snodgrass and dropping some single-parent knowledge on Dr. Brown, who’s dealing with her own family crisis. Then, he ends the episode by gallantly swooping to the bedside of his injured daughter as she cries out his name. It’s a sign of how far Vice Principals has lost its way that the Gamby/Snodgrass kiss on the roof of the school seems normal, despite the fact that we know what this man is capable of (and, more to the point, incapable of).
Russell is once more stuck with the short shrift, story-wise, and there’s more disappointment — but for a different reason this time. The crazed, stop-at-nothing master manipulator is easily duped by Dr. Brown’s snarky sons, after being forced to watch over them and attempting to pry away secrets about their mom. Like Gamby, Russell has morphed from what was an utterly strange and prickly character to another sitcom variant: “guy who hates kids forced to play babysitter” is one of the older gambits in the book.
And finally, Dr. Brown’s ex-husband Tavis (Brian Tyree Henry), unseen until now, shows up at school to complicate matters. But he makes very little effort, maturity-wise, to argue he should start seeing his kids again. He basically shows up at her workplace, makes an ass of himself, and assaults her subordinate — granted, a subordinate who shows overtly racist tendencies. But in story lines like this one and Gamby’s false redemption, Vice Principals shows little interest in having its characters do the work that will lead the audience to draw correct conclusions.
The episode’s defining moment is when Brown extends the olive branch, noting she “can’t control who stays” at the motel where she and the kids have been living since Gamby and Russell burned down her house, without any acknowledgment about the truth of her predicament. In theory, Vice Principals is still playing the long game with its most transgressive plotline. In practice, like Tavis, it really seems to be abdicating its responsibilities.
- The hardest I’ve laughed at this show in weeks: When Gamby knocks over that streetlight in the parking lot on the way to fatherly redemption. Car-based physical comedy in a wide-angle lens is the truest path to my heart (see also: The Last Man on Earth).
- Russell is quite intent on demonstrating to these smart-ass teens that he is not gay. Yet I feel the show missed an opportunity when it left them alone with his computer open to porn and elected to have them run around the school getting high instead.
- I want to know the level of human-dragon eroticism in Snodgrass’s “YA novel.”