After the Principal (Bill Murray) retires, both Vice Principals, Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins), think they will be the next Principal. When the Superintendent gives the job to a woman from another district named Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Herbert Gregory), they join forces to ruin it for her. Gamby and Russell are very different people but both are trying to achieve the common goal of forcing out the new school principal so one of them can be on top.
I will say that I did not go into this with the highest of expectations due to my skepticism of finding anything within the subject matter but after watching all 9 episodes this season, I was wrong. I haven’t seen Eastbound & Down but I am familiar with the work of Danny McBride. I am less familiar with Walton Goggins but I did enjoy him in The Hateful Eight.
Neal Gamby (McBride) and Lee Russell (Goggins) are two vice principals both with aspirations of becoming principals. Both are much different people with the only thing they have in common being their dislike for one another. Once opportunity arises thanks to the retirement of their current principal, each believed that their chance had finally came. These hopes are quickly dashed when their principal (Murray) reveals that he trusts neither of them, leading their school district to bring in a woman from another district named Dr. Belinda Brown (Gregory) to be principal.
Dr. Brown appears as the perfect choice for principal as she is a college professor who comes with experience and brings a plethora of ideas in order to better the school. Gamby and Russell feel slighted to say the least and what makes it even worse for them is how she quickly got along with the staff and the students. In order for one of them to become principal, they must find a way to work together to eliminate Dr. Brown. The show, over its 9 episodes, pretty much chronicles Gamby and Russell’s quest to do so.
The interesting part about the show was the the contrast between Gamby and Russell. They are different people and seeing their differences played out on screen were fun to watch. Gamby is an inappropriate, self-centered, misanthropic, man-child and more of the “straight” man in the relationship and Russell is more of a foil to Gamby who shares many characteristics with Gamby but is more over the top with his Southern accent. Both are not the most likable characters but that’s the point. The allure is seeing how low both are willing to go in order to succeed at their goal.
The show attempted to show each each of their personal lives but this was nowhere near as interesting as the Gamby and Russell relationship. Gamby is divorced from his wife Gale (Busy Philipps) and also has a daughter named Janelle (Maya G. Love). Gale is married to a man named Ray (Shea Whigham) who is very close to Janelle which makes Gamby jealous. The weird part of about this relationship was that Ray seemed to like Gamby but Gamby did not like Ray. Gale and Gamby did not exactly get along either as they often disagreed on parenting styles. Thinking that he was going to lose Janelle to Ray, Gamby gets progressively more involved in her life which did not always end up under the best circumstances.
Russell had less going on here as he lived a more extravagant life along with his wife Christine (Susan Park) and her mother Mi-Cha (June Kyoto Lu). These scenes were mostly used to emasculate Russell and to make him into a coward, either by not having him stand up to his mother-in-law or not having him stand up to their loud neighbors. What was great about those scenes were the interactions between Russell and Mi-Cha. Mi-Cha was more of an old chinese woman stereotype who would mostly yell at Russell in chinese but it was clear that she did not like him. The two would have many hilarious clashes involving them yelling at each other. These scenes were a sharp character contrast to who we saw in scenes with Gamby where he is more assertive and also more cunning and calculated.
Dr. Brown was not perfect either as she is a single mother with two sons named Luke (RJ Cyler) and Mario (Deshawn Rivers). Their move from Philadelphia to North Carolina to accommodate Dr. Brown’s new job put strain on their relationship. They loved their mother even though they sometimes didn’t show it but they still missed home and their father Tavis (Brian Tyree Henry) who has been absent for most of their lives. She moved to North Carolina to try and get a fresh start but as Gamby and Russell try to bring her down, we learn more and more about her past.
Gamby and Russell are vice principals but the show tended to focus more on Gamby so we only got to see him do his job. His half of the job revolved mostly around discipline. This led to some funny moments involving him and the teens he was disciplining. This technique evolved over the season as the addition of Dr. Brown changed his method of discipline. Her way of doing things was much different than his so watching him have to adapt was fun as well. The other side of his professional life was his relationship with the other teachers. Teachers were not particularly fond of Gamby and mostly tolerated him. The exception to that was an English teacher named Amanda Snodgrass (Georgia King) with whom he had a crush on. Everybody knew it but being the person he was, he was too afraid to approach her.
The bulk of the plot here was Gamby and Russell’s plot to eliminate Dr. Brown. To do this, they tried to sabotage the school to hurt her professional reputation and also attacked her personally. Without giving anything away, if they were successful, it wouldn’t be a very long show. There will still be a 9-episode second season next year so that isn’t quite a guarantee and the end of this season set up the next one rather nicely. Watching them this season often fail in the most spectacular fashion. This was great to watch as the chemistry between Gamby and Russell elevated these sequences, making them more enjoyable.
The acting here was good with McBride and Goggins being the obvious standouts. It’s amazing how Gabby and Russell can be so unlikable and yet so likable at the same time in that you can’t help but to root for them despite the way they go about things. McBride’s performance was the more restrained of the two while still managing to be inappropriate and mildly socially awkward. Goggins’ performance may have been a little too over the top, bordering on caricature, it kind of still worked here. The best part of the show has to be the evolution of their relationship with them becoming closer over working together to eliminate Dr. Brown. While they were becoming more like friends, they still found time to hurl insults at one another which were hilarious.
Gregory’s Dr. Brown stood up well against McBride and Goggins. She was their foil and they were hers, even if she may not have known that at the time. Dr. Brown may have been oblivious to what was happening but that was never going to last forever. The reveal perhaps came a little too late. She had great chemistry with McBride and Goggins which made all their scenes fun to watch. Especially when we see her get played by them and she’s not aware of what’s happening. She also had some great moments of her own whenever she was intentionally mislead which often led to hilarious results.
Overall, this is a hilarious show with strong writing and performances by McBride, Goggins, and Gregory but each of their characters could have been fleshed out more. There’s always next season!