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”