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Vice Principals: “The Foundation of Learning”

SEASON 1, EPISODE 6
WRITTEN BY DANNY MCBRIDE, JOHN CARRIER & BEN DOUGAN
DIRECTED BY JODY HILL

“If you wanna go twelve o’clock, Neal, you gotta believe.”

The romantic subplots on Vice Principals are easily the least interesting part of the show (unless you’re counting the increasingly possible homoerotic undertones to Neal and Lee’s partnership). While “The Foundation of Learning” does a better job of integrating Neal’s crush on Ms. Snodgrass into the larger arc of the series, it still feels like an unnecessary distraction more than anything else.

Ms. Snodgrass, as it turns out, has been shacking up with Mr. Haydon, who isn’t as much of a good guy as he’d initially seemed, cutting things off because he doesn’t want to see her outside of work. His excuse is that they don’t have the same free period anymore, though, as Amanda discovers the next day at school, it’s probably more to do with his pretty new TA. Her solution is to go to the vice principal. They make a little small talk, with Ms. Snodgrass mentioning that she used to do motocross with her brother. Unfortunately, period-switching is a no-go (though not before Neal makes several uncomfortable and inappropriate remarks). A teacher’s schedule can’t shift within a grading period; she’ll have to wait until next semester.

The latest step in Brown vs. Gamby & Russell is a textbook snafu. Literally. 600 textbooks have gone missing. The warehouse attendant assures them that the books were delivered, showing them the slip, which was signed by Ms. LeBlanc, the head of the English department. Gamby and Russell immediately plant the seeds of doubt in Brown’s mind, telling her that LeBlanc has no respect for administration and thinks that she can get away with whatever she likes. In fairness, while Ms. LeBlanc seems like a good teacher, the vice principals don’t seem to be lying about her disregard for the school administration, as she’s immediately snappy and dismissive with Brown when confronted with the textbook order. Later, she even goes so far as to call her a “two-bit, flavor of the month principal,” accusing her of just looking for a scapegoat.

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Unsurprisingly, the true culprits behind the textbook theft are Neal and Lee themselves. Their powwow later that night, as Neal brings the stolen books over in a schoolbus, includes an invitation from Lee to celebrate with pizza (“I say margarita, what say you?”), which Neal declines, telling Russell that he has to go home and study motocross. (This leads to another gem from Russell: “I can’t believe you have a nemesis named Ray. What a stupid fucking name.”)

Neal shows up at the track with a brand new bike. Janelle’s happy to see him, despite his put-down of motocross on the whole. Still, there’s a sweetness to his sour attitude: “You’re my daughter, so I’m going to be invested in anything that you are. Because I love you.” Ray, earnest as ever, compliments Neal on the bike, and at Janelle’s prompting, performs a wheelie all the way around the track. It’s a stake that’s high enough that he immediately goes to Ms. Snodgrass, offering to switch her schedule around in exchange for teaching him how to do a wheelie. 

It’s a sweet sequence when he finally manages to pop a wheelie, though the entire sequence with Snodgrass doesn’t quite feel like it’s from the same show as the scene that follows, as Lee and Neal replace the stolen books. The tone and framing are noticeably darker, maybe just due to the nigh-demonic quality that Russell’s presence lends to the proceedings. The only connection is that Lee needles Gamby about how things have been going with Amanda, a line of inquiry that Gamby refuses to entertain. Lee continues to tease him until he leaves, calling Snodgrass a “dyke” and telling Neal that he’s got blue balls.

He provokes Brown, too, as she and LeBlanc go up in front of the school board. Brown and LeBlanc immediately devolve into an ugly argument with Brown going on full offensive. When the news that the books have been recovered is delivered, it cuts Brown down at the knees. Lee calls Gamby to deliver the good news, and to wish him well at the motocross rally. Amanda serves as his moral support at the track after deciding not to pursue things with Hayden. His ride around the track, however, dissolves as quickly as Brown’s confrontation with LeBlanc. His attempt at a wheelie ends in a wreck, and in an argument with Janelle, who accuses him of putting too much pressure on her. The episode doesn’t end well for Lee, either, who laughs off Brown’s suspicion that the debacle with LeBlanc was a trap, but can’t quite play off being caught spitting into her coffee cup. The playing field has shifted drastically — Brown isn’t blind anymore.

The last scene of the show, in which Amanda holds Neal’s hand on the drive back to town after seeing him on the verge of tears, is the first scene about Neal’s romantic hopes that holds any real emotional heft. It’s telling that it’s a scene that doesn’t have any dialogue, nor any outright attempts at humor. It’s earnest to the point that its main goal, integrating Amanda into the larger storyline via Neal’s personal life, doesn’t seem quite as shoehorned in as it was before. 

Insult of the Week: “Janelle. Gayle. Cuckold.”

Grade: C

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Tintin enthusiast. NYC via the midwest.

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