Review: Schoolyard shenanigans power ‘Vice Principals’

Tom Long

Danny McBride is his usual obnoxious, doofus, deluded, arrogant loser self in the new HBO comedy “Vice Principals.” But somehow this time it works.

Partly that has to do with McBride (“Eastbound & Down,” “Pineapple Express”) having a formidable partner in Walton Goggins (“Justified,” “The Hateful Eight”). Goggins is known far more as a dramatic actor, but here he fuels the funny expertly.

Still, this is McBride’s show — he created it, writes and directs many of the episodes, and is the focal point. And if at first it seems like another broad man-child satire, give it time; things develop.

Here’s the set-up: McBride plays Neal Gamby, the disciplinarian vice principal at a North Carolina high school. Goggins is Lee Russell, the school’s dandified, slightly swishy other vice principal. When the school’s principal (Bill Murray in a cameo) retires to care for his ailing wife, each hopes to fill the vacancy.

That doesn’t happen. Instead the school board brings in Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) to run things. The two vice principals are so appalled that they band together as frenemies to bring her down.

The schoolyard antagonism between Gamby and Russell can wear thin early on, although it sets the stage for their ongoing immaturity. And personal dossiers — Gamby’s divorced from Busy Phillips and longs for a casually hot teacher played by Georgia King; Russell has a Korean wife and nagging mother-in-law — are slowly built.

The level of profanity here would likely give any real life vice principal a heart attack, and Gamby’s stupidity is world class. Eventually you realize he’s just a lonely, sad jerk in need of validation. Comedy, you’ll recall, is just tragedy upside down.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

‘Vice Principals’

Grade: B

10:30 p.m. Sunday