Un­holy al­liance

Danny McBride and Wal­ton Gog­gins team up in ‘Vice Prin­ci­pals’


There’s noth­ing like a good comedic ri­valry. All the bet­ter when it’s be­tween a blus­ter­ing, mous­ta­chioed jerk and a Machi­avel­lian, brown-nos­ing dandy, throw­ing down on the bat­tle­field of a high school hall­way or cafe­te­ria.

That’s the or­der of the day for “Vice Prin­ci­pals,” the new dark com­edy from the co-cre­ators of “East­bound & Down,” set to de­but on HBO. Emmy nom­i­nee Wal­ton Gog­gins (“Jus­ti­fied”) steps away from more se­ri­ous past roles to go up against “East­bound’s” Danny McBride in the series, which made waves at South by South­west back in March. “Vice Prin­ci­pals” de­buts Sunday, July 17, on HBO.

Orig­i­nally en­vi­sioned for the big screen, the series is based on a screen­play writ­ten by McBride and col­lab­o­ra­tor Jody Hill, be­fore the two even sold “East­bound.” As is be­com­ing the trend these days, it was de­ter­mined that “Vice Prin­ci­pals” needed more screen time than the­atres could give it to do the story jus­tice, so it was re­jigged for tele­vi­sion and found a home at HBO.

The show re­volves around Neal Gamby (McBride) and Lee Rus­sell (Gog­gins), ri­val vice-prin­ci­pals at sub­ur­ban, run-of-the-mill North Jack­son High School. When the long­time prin­ci­pal (ex­cit­ing cameo alert! Bill Mur­ray, “Ghost­busters,” 1984) steps down to take care of his ail­ing wife, Gamby and Rus­sell both set their sights on his job, as­sum­ing that one of them will be cho­sen as his suc­ces­sor. Their loathing for one an­other is pal­pa­ble, and it’s no holds barred as they fight tooth and nail, sab­o­tag­ing each other in or­der to land the cov­eted po­si­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, their dreams are dashed by the wholly un­wel­come ar­rival of Belinda Brown (Kim­berly He­bert Gre­gory, “De­vi­ous Maids”), a con­fi­dent, pow­er­ful and highly ca­pa­ble woman who swoops in and nabs the prin­ci­pal’s chair out from un­der both of them. From then on, the hos­tile VPs de­cide to put their en­mity on the back­burner, join­ing forces to con­cen­trate their ef­forts on oust­ing their new boss — and the sooner the bet­ter.

Judg­ing by the pro­mos, the show is go­ing to have au­di­ences in stitches. McBride’s sweater-vested, ran­courous Gamby plays beau­ti­fully against Gog­gins’ loudly dressed, softly drawl­ing Rus­sell as the two go to absurd lengths to an­tag­o­nize each other and any­one who gets in their way.

“It’s the adults that are go­ing through all of the so­cial [crises] that usu­ally you see teenagers go­ing through,” McBride said in an HBO promo. “Their jobs are to dis­ci­pline chil­dren, but ul­ti­mately they have the same sort of behaviour as the kids that they dis­ci­pline.”

In­deed, it’s ev­i­dent from the get-go that both men care more about be­ing king of the cas­tle than they do about ac­tu­ally run­ning the school prop­erly. The smil­ing and af­fa­ble Brown ap­pears to be the only one who ac­tu­ally has the stu­dents’ and school’s best in­ter­ests at heart, yet her sec­onds-in-com­mand are sin­gu­larly fo­cused on get­ting her out of the picture.

Rus­sell, the VP in charge of cur­ricu­lum, is quite well liked by the staff and stu­dents of North Jack­son High, while Gamby, VP in charge of dis­ci­pline, is loathed by one and all — and un­sur­pris­ingly so. The brief promo clips show Gamby hol­ler­ing at stu­dents, Gamby curs­ing at stu­dents, Gamby hurl­ing pop­corn at stu­dents and Gamby get­ting hit in the face with some hideous-look­ing cafe­te­ria meat by stu­dents (or pos­si­bly by Rus­sell — it wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing, judg­ing by their re­la­tion­ship).

HBO screened the show’s first two episodes at SXSW, and re­views have been mostly pos­i­tive. “Vice Prin­ci­pals” won the fes­ti­val’s 2016 Au­di­ence Award, and crit­ics praise the comedic pair­ing of McBride and Gog­gins, in par­tic­u­lar.

The net­work has picked up an 18-episode or­der for the series, which will en­com­pass a full school year. The plan is for two sea­sons — each one cov­er­ing a school term.

Wal­ton Gog­gins stars in “Vice Prin­ci­pals”

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