Vice Principals: Danny McBrides new comedy is too cruel for comfort

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This sitcom about two warring white men trying to take down their black, female boss revels in politically incorrect humor but has a mean streak a mile wide

Vice Principals

Whats the name of this show? Vice Principals

When does it premiere? Sunday, 17 July at 10.30pm ET on HBO.

What is this show about? When the principal of a South Carolina school (Bill Murray) retires, the two vice-principals, Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins), compete for their job. When the gig goes to Dr Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), an experienced principal from Philadelphia, the two join forces to take her down.

How are the vice-principals different? Gamby is the kind of man who is living with an oppressive masculinity. Tasked with keeping order and discipline at the school, hes constantly worried about his modicum of power and how tough he appears to the rest of the faculty and student body. Russell is the politician of the two, always making nice with the teachers and the new principal even though he has his own agenda. The real snake, though, is Dr Brown, who will take no guff and buys biscuits for the entire staff but will fire anyone without mercy when she thinks they arent doing their job properly.

Vice-principal seems like the saddest job in the world. I think thats the point. McBride and director Jody Hill created the show and like their previous collaborations in The Foot Fist Way and Eastbound & Down, the cast is full of losers who are trying to get back at a life they feel has shorted them. Gamby is the center of the show and is really just living a horrible life, living in a cookie-cutter condo in the worlds saddest housing development where the brown La-Z-Boy and a giant TV are the only things in his all-beige living room. Hes also dealing with a recent divorce from Gale (Busy Phillipps), raising his ungrateful daughter Janelle (Maya G Love), and Gales new boyfriend Ray (Shea Whigham) is the only person on Earth who is nice to Neal.

Is their sadness where the comedy comes from? Yes. But its a strange dynamic. Were supposed to both hate and feel sorry for these men, who are victims of their own making, of course, but cant help the rage they feel in a world where they are ineffectual. You want to hate Gamby and everything he stands for, but you also feel sorry for him.

This show comes at a strange time. Right now the Neal Gambys of the world privileged white men being replaced by women and people of color (Dr Brown is both) and having the promise of their cushy life ripped away are lashing out through things like the Trump candidacy and the Brexit vote. This is not the right time to try to make people feel sorry for an asshole white dude who literally trashes his bosss house and sets it on fire, especially when that person is a black woman.

Dr Brown is another problem. Hebert Gregorys performance is excellent in the way she calibrates her switches between outrageous civility and aggression, but turning the black woman fighting off these rubes for her job into the villain seems miscalibrated.

That doesnt sound very funny. Its not. Also not funny is that almost all of Gambys insults, and there are many, come at the expense of making men afraid of either their masculinity or homosexuality. Yes, were supposed to think hes a jerk and discount his views, but it still reinforces that the worst thing you can call a man is gay or effeminate when there is really nothing wrong with being either of those things.

In the pilot alone he threatens to slap Russell in the face with a penis, tells a student that hell be anally raped in detention, ridicules Russell for bending over and taking it in the ass, repeatedly refers to Russell as sassy in coded language for calling him gay, calls Russell a bitch and says hes going to fuck him in the ass. Havent we moved beyond this, boys?

Is the show funny at all? Sometimes, yes. There are some great gags when Gamby is teaching drivers ed, which adds a ridiculousness to the proceedings that has nothing to do with being cruel. In the opening scene, Gamby and Russell are squabbling while trying to say the pledge of allegiance, which is hilarious. The show is at its best when the two are fighting and insulting each other, when those insults have nothing to do with being gay or a sissy. However, unlike Veep where the insults are so byzantine and deserved that theyre uproarious, these sometimes veer in the direction of being too mean-spirited.

Are there any characters to root for? Dr Brown, obviously, because these two jerks deserve their comeuppance. Also pure and intelligent English teacher Amanda (Georgia King), who Gamby is in love with, but so far her presence hasnt had much effect on him other than to turn him on.

Should I watch this show? If you are a McBride fan or enjoy mean insults and grown men behaving like animals, you will be well served watching this. However, there are much better shows about lovable losers out there (Difficult People, Casual, Youre the Worst, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend all come to mind) that dont have the same penchant for cruel and dated humor.

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