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Vice Principals: “The Field Trip”

SEASON 1, EPISODE 3
WRITTEN BY DANNY MCBRIDE, JOHN CARCIERI & ADAM COUNTEE
DIRECTED BY DANNY MCBRIDE

“You think you know about wine, sweetheart? What wine pairs good with 10 days’ ISS? Is it a Zinfandel? Is it a fucking Shiraz?”

After an episode that was nothing if not a manic high, the third episode of Vice Principals is a bit of a lull. While there are a few choice character details that come into play, they’re not enough to save what is essentially a bottle episode, mostly because it’s missing the show’s most valuable asset: Walton Goggins.

The episode opens the same way the pilot did, i.e. with the two vice principals and the principal raising the flag in front of the school. Brown is running late, and Gamby and Russell mutter shallow insults under their breath as she makes her way across the parking lot, finding solidarity — as usual — in their delusions of superiority. The scene is somehow more unpleasant than their setting her house on fire last week, maybe because it feels real rather than heightened, the way the rest of the series is. Fortunately, it doesn’t last, though that dispelling comes at the price of returning to the show’s weakest plotline, that of Gamby wooing Ms. Snodgrass. It’s worth noting here that the music on the show falls into two different categories that, so far, seem fairly clearly delineated. There’s the usual drum corps incidental music, and then there’s synth-pop backing that’s been reserved for Gamby’s flights of fancy — his blissful few seconds thinking he was principal in the pilot, for instance, and in this episode as he finally goes to eat lunch with Ms. Snodgrass at the teachers’ table. It’s just as short-lived a victory here; Gamby only makes it halfway across the cafeteria before a student flings lunchmeat into his face.

Things get tenser when he discovers that Ms. Snodgrass has been invited to chaperone a history class field trip to Charles Towne Landing by Bill Hayden (Mike O’Gorman). Hayden is the stereotypical Cool Teacher; we see him riding his bike down the hall and making small talk with the students before Gamby confronts him, essentially bullying his way into being another chaperone on the trip. This doesn’t please Hayden, nor does it please Russell, who, once Gamby asks for his dossier on Snodgrass, can’t even begin to express his contempt. (“I bet you’re going to wear shorts on the trip, ain’t you?” Spoilers: he does.) The salt in the wound is Janelle’s enthusiasm as the Gamby clan goes to Ray’s motocross competition. It’s an excuse for Neal to brag about the trip to Charles Towne Landing, which he frames not as a field trip but as “a trip with a lady friend.” The trip is anything but, though Russell acquiesces to Gamby’s request for Amanda’s dossier, leaving it in his car with a post-it note reading: LOCK YOUR DOORS. ASSHOLE. As with Brown’s file, it contains a wealth of information, including Amanda’s LinkedIn page, a section on her menstrual cycle, and taped-together copies of her shredded bank statements.

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From the get-go, it’s clear that the teachers know that Gamby has invited himself on the field trip. In fact, Ms. Abbott (Edi Patterson, hysterical) goes so far as to outright say so, which Gamby denies with enough spluttering to fill that river in Egypt. Trouble begins on the bus, as Neal tries to put the moves on Ms. Snodgrass using what he’s gleaned from the dossier thus far, all the while still trying to undermine Hayden. The trip (scored to “La Reine de Saba”) is a continued exercise in tension, all of which comes to a head when the other teachers fail to call Gamby for dinner. When he arrives, sour as ever, Ms. Snodgrass is the only one to volunteer to stay behind and keep him company. As it turns out, it’s not because she wants to spend time with him, but to tell him that his behavior is ruining the trip. After she leaves, Gamby storms back to his room to stuff her dossier into the garbage. As he does, he sees that his suite’s been raided. The students have used the connecting doors to steal his liquor, and though Neal’s blow-up is a classic overreaction, his immediate ability to name every student and know that two are missing is proof that he really might not be such a bad vice principal after all.

When he goes to Hayden to inform him of what’s happened, he discovers that, once again, all of the teachers are hanging out without him. Upon Neal’s delivering the news, all of them panic. Neal is the only one to keep a level head, dispatching them all to look for the missing students. (Admittedly, it’s a self-serving move. “You better be glad that I’m here, because if this was Lee Russell or Belinda Brown, they would’ve called the cops by now. Be glad I’m cool, because I’m gonna give y’all one more shot.” “Well, if they’re drunk and missing, maybe we do need to call the cops.” “No. I’m giving y’all one more shot.”) In (further) typical Gamby fashion, Neal continues to grill Hayden even as they search for the missing two students, who they eventually find having sex in the hotel gym a la the apartment window in Shame. The teachers clear out after Gamby lectures the lot of them; chronic yes-woman Ms. Abbott is the only one who stays behind, endlessly cheerful despite Neal’s obvious annoyance with her. 

The next morning, Neal sneaks out of bed, leaving Ms. Abbott snoring, and runs into Amanda at the hotel gift store. She apologizes for what she’d said to him the night before, and helps him pick out a gift for Janelle (he opts for a doll of a horse, despite having just received a text from her telling him that she just got her first dirt bike). However, like every small victory he has, it’s a high that doesn’t last long. Ms. Abbott, left on her own in his hotel room, has found the binder he’d thrown away earlier, and needless to say, finds it more than a little suspicious.

For all that transpires in it, the episode is weaker for featuring only one vice principal. Gamby’s romantic pursuits are the least interesting part of Vice Principals given that the show is predicated on its protagonists being terrible, and that it’s not a storyline that has any obvious dramatic benefit. It’s a pity, as Georgia King is perfectly charming as Ms. Snodgrass, particularly when she’s up front with Neal about his bad behavior. Hopefully it’s not a plot thread that will go the rote direction of getting the girl, or if it does, will at least add some stakes that tie into the main plot of the series.

Insult of the week:

  • “What’s sloppy seconds?” “Your mom, because of her bad attitude.”

GRADE: C

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Tintin enthusiast. NYC via the midwest.

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