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Vice Principals: “The Good Book”

SEASON 1, EPISODE 7
WRITTEN BY DANNY MCBRIDE, JOHN CARCIERI & HAYES DAVENPORT
DIRECTED BY JODY HILL

“Big momma’s comin’!”

In its seventh episode, Vice Principals finally manages to tie all of its storylines together in a way that doesn’t feel completely forced. It’s a feat it manages by playing it relatively safe, a move that makes the episode feel somewhat incongruous with the insanity that has characterized the show’s best episodes thus far. There’s no denying they go against the fiercely misanthropic groundwork the series has laid down, though I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the emotional (and humanizing) beats the show hit in its latest episode. It at least keeps one thing consistent: it’s a show in which the adults are the children. Though they deal with adult problems, they still work through them in adolescent ways, as emphasized by putting the teachers and administrators through the sorts of exercises that wouldn’t be out of place among the students were the show about that part of high school rather than the grown-ups involved.

Following the disaster at the motocross track, Gamby and his daughter are on uneasy terms. Granted, this freeze mostly seems to be coming from Neal himself, as he opens the episode by stopping by Ray’s in order to drop off a box of her things, including a sonogram. When Janelle tells him he’s making a big deal out of it, he turns the accusation around, citing her yelling at him on the racetrack. Still, he tells her to call him after her upcoming race to tell him how she did, though the moment’s undercut by his waffling on giving her a hug as he leaves, settling on a handshake and telling her, “Have a nice life.”

At school, it’s Teacher Work Day. After scaring a stray student out of the building, Russell is working over time to stay in (or get back into, depending on how you’re reading things) Belinda’s good graces, cheering loudly as she gives a speech to the assembled teachers. She puts him on babysitting duty looking after her sons, and sets Gamby on compiling a structural leakage report with Ms. Swift. He comes across Ms. Snodgrass on the way, telling that he’s “over” his daughter (“Ray won her, so, conversation over”) when she asks how he’s doing. They hit their first romantic trope of the episode as they take a break to eat; Neal whips up some scrambled eggs in the school kitchen, and they get dangerously close when she offers to help and they end up holding the whisk together, though Neal, as with every emotional beat, neatly blows it by talking too much.

It’s with the utterance of, “Large black male!” that he discovers Belinda’s ex-husband Tavis roaming the halls of the school. Tavis makes a run for it when Gamby finds him trying to reach up through the slot of a vending machine, and gets tackled to the ground right in front of Belinda. Despite his pleas with her to let him see their sons, she tells Gamby to throw him out.

The teachers assemble in the gym to play what I’m going to refer to as the Inglourious Basterds guessing game, i.e. the one where you stick a card on your forehead with a name (in this case, profession) on it, and have to guess what it is through yes or no questions. Though Gamby and Snodgrass make the age-old nodding-at-each-other-before-the-activity-begins pact of being partners in the game, they’re both intercepted, Gamby by Abbott and Snodgrass by Hayden. Naturally, both Abbott and Hayden only want to ask questions about what’s going on between Gamby and Snodgrass (Abbott brings up the binder, which at this point feels like a bit of Chekhov’s fun), though neither Neal nor Amanda are having any of it. (We get to see snippets of the other conversations, including one that got a full laugh from me: upon hearing that his job is extremely difficult, Martin, the fine arts teacher, guesses, “Wardrobe mistress for Kinky Boots on Broadway.”)

1 SPwQ9uY7SM3zCnmI2XUynQBoth Neal and Lee get a respite from their respective days when Gamby brings Lee lunch. The scenes between Neal and Lee in this episode are genuinely charming, building on their renewed friendship as of “Circles.” Neal expresses his frustration with his daughter and with Teacher Work Day, saying that it gets into his head, and complaining to Russell about Abbott and Hayden. Lee does what any good friend would do, going along with Gamby and insulting the other teachers, and when Gamby protests that insults are Lee’s forte, Lee gives him a few tips.

Lee: Just don’t do that thing where you repeat a person’s insult back at them. That’s just the worst, and you do that all the time.
Neal:
 No, I don’t. You do that.
Lee: 
Just like that. You see that? That’s what you just did. Don’t be that person. Don’t be you, Gamby.

He puts Lee’s advice to work when he sits with the teachers for lunch. Hayden and Abbott immediately begin harassing them, Hayden specifically citing the book that Amanda’s been working on, and Gamby does a pretty good job of giving as good as he gets until he’s butt-dialed (how does this keep happening on shows in 2016) by Gayle. The call’s enough to get into his head, and he leaves immediately after hanging up to go into the woods to clear his head. To his surprise, Belinda’s already out there, and for the exact same reason. They have the longest and most personal talk that they’ve had since the season started. Belinda shares how she caught her husband cheating, and Gamby shares his own emotional turmoil over his daughter. It’s a talk that’s startlingly honest for both of them considering how poorly they’ve generally gotten along, and considering his admiration for her during the school rally, bodes well for the rest of the season.

When he gets back to school, he comes across Amanda again, but they barely have any time to talk — he only manages to ask to read her book after hearing Hayden talk about it at lunch — before Tavis appears again, and another pursuit begins. Tavis ends up in the console room of the auditorium, where he pleads with Belinda via the speaker to let him back into their sons’ lives. She finally agrees when she sees Gamby, thinking back on their conversation in the woods, and they go to see their sons together.

Lee, meanwhile, is on a chase of his own. After Belinda’s sons call him gay, he tries to dispel that notion by showing them pictures of naked women online, then trying to ply them into telling him secrets about their mother. They cotton on without missing a beat, bargaining with Russell to get them snacks from the vending machine in exchange for home secrets. As soon as he leaves, though, they make their escape through the ceiling vents, forcing him to run all over the school in search of where they ended up. He ultimately finds them out on the grounds, and only manages to get them down by agreeing to smoke a joint with them, then paying them, then making it clear that all their necks are on the line if their mother finds them playing hooky.

Luckily, they make it back by the skin of their teeth, mostly because Tavis takes his time in trying to win back Belinda’s affection on the way, to debatable effect. The boys are delighted to see their father, and Belinda’s in a good mood, too, telling Gamby that she appreciated their talk. She laughs with (or at) Russell, too, calling him a liar when he tells her that her sons were well-behaved during their time together.

To cap things off, Gamby finally gets the girl. Amanda finds him on the roof, and brings him a copy of her manuscript. When he finally manages to say something to her that isn’t creepy or inappropriate, she kisses him. Lee congratulates him as they leave school, though their conversation is interrupted by a call from Gayle. It’s not a butt-dial, this time. Janelle’s been in an accident, and is calling out for her father. It’s touching to see how quickly whatever braggadocio Gamby possesses disappears when he realizes that his daughter needs him; he immediately runs off without telling Lee what’s happened, though Lee ultimately ends up driving them to the hospital when Gamby backs his car directly into a light pole. He’s a man on a mission; he doesn’t stop moving until he’s got his daughter in his arms. Lee, for his part, seems genuinely worried. The look of concern that he gives Gamby in the car is maybe the most emotionally pure expression we’ve seen on him so far, and he seems stricken to see Gamby’s moral turnaround for the sake of his daughter, as well.

Once again, the episode seems incongruous. It plays on the safest aspects of its characters, but that’s not necessarily something I’m inclined to complain about just yet. The three-way rapport between Gamby, Russell, and Brown is a delight to watch (especially between McBride and Goggins), and considering all the stakes that have been set, I find it hard to believe that the show would ignore the conflicts that have been set up between them in favor of breezing through to an easy ending. 

Insult of the Week: “Hayden? That recycling cunt? He wears clothes from Structure.”

GRADE: B

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Tintin enthusiast. NYC via the midwest.

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