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HBO's 'Vice Principals': An Avalanche of Obvious Jokes and Dirty Words
July 17, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 3 comments

HBO’s Vice Principals will run 18 episodes, which makes it not a good sign that the laughs are already feeling forced by the end of episode one.

There’s nothing wrong with the cast of Vice Principals, which premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET. They’re just put in a situation where they have to keep cracking wise long after we’ve gotten the show’s rather thin joke.

Danny McBride plays Neal Gamby, the vice principal of discipline at North Jackson High School. Walton Goggins plays Lee Russell, the vice principal of curriculum.

Bill Murray plays long-time principal Welles, and Murray shows the good sense to get out fast. He steps down in the first episode because his wife has terminal melanoma. When neither Neal nor Lee gets the job as his successor, the show’s core plotline is set in motion.

The outsider who gets the gig is Dr. Belinda Brown, played very nicely by Kimberly Hebert Gregory.

She seems competent, and a far better choice than either the self-centered blockhead Neal or the fussy, fawning Lee.

Nonetheless, Neal and Lee both wanted the job and both assumed one of them would get it. Their disbelief quickly turns to a vow for vengeance, and they put aside the fact they hate each other to unite in a greater cause: undermining and eliminating Dr. Brown.

They hope this will give the gig to one of them. Which one, for the moment, doesn’t matter, though it will matter a lot if their campaign succeeds.

The core gag in Vice Principals is simple and unsubtle. Almost all authority figures in this school, and a fair number of students, parents and peripheral characters as well, are self-absorbed, oblivious idiots who do pretty much everything wrong.

When Neal sees a student being beaten up by two bullies, he punishes all three, because they were all “involved” in the violence. When new English teacher Georgia King (Amanda Snodgrass) tries to gently redirect him, he responds by trying to go hands-on with her.

It’s a show where a student punches the vice principal, the vice principal threatens a bullied student with gang rape and the two vice principals spend about half their dialogue hurling seventh-grade locker room profanity at each other.

There’s some satire here, probably. But with the avalanche of obvious jokes and dirty words, it hardly feels worth sticking around to find it.

McBride and Goggins do the best with the hand they’ve been dealt, and it seems clear Goggins (The Shield, Justified) was looking again for a different kind of character than the ones he’s played lately on other shows.

Good for him. Now he just needs to find a better different character.

Vice Principals will be spread over two seasons, giving it time to find some stories with more substance than a Three Stooges skit, and the talent is here to do that.

The problem is the lack of indication that the show really wants to.

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Michael Mara Strauss
No thanks. A real disappointment Groggins who is so talentedu has wasted his talent.
Jul 27, 2016   |  Reply
One of the worst shows in recent memory. 10 minutes into second episode was all I could tolerate. Disgusting.
Jul 26, 2016   |  Reply
Horrible show. Worst thing HBO has ever aired. Goggins is wasted, (or at least he must have been when he took this role). Not funny at all. Shame.
Jul 20, 2016   |  Reply
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