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Series / Vice Principals

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We all need someone to look up to.
"The only thing that matters is who has the power. And the wrong person has the power."
Lee Russell

Vice Principals is a comedy series that ran for two season on HBO from 2016-2017. It stars Danny McBride and Walton Goggins as co-vice principals vying for the Head Principal position at fictional North Jackson High School in small-town South Carolina.

North Jackson is having a leadership crisis. As its beloved principal retires to take care of his ailing wife, the school's two Vice Principals, Neal Gamby and Lee Russell, are already envisioning life behind the big desk. The only problem is that there's only one chair, and the only thing stronger than their desire to take the school's throne is their long-standing hatred for each other.

Each are convinced they are more deserving and are sure to get the job. Both promise to fire (or otherwise humiliate) the other. But the School Superintendent arrives and presents Dr. Belinda Brown, an educated liberal black woman from Philadelphia, as Head Principal and their new boss. Furthermore, wherever Doctor Brown has served as principal, she has cleaned out the existing administrative staff. Believing their jobs are in jeopardy, the two mortal enemies forge a truce to focus their hate for each other into eliminating Brown by any means necessary before she has a chance to fire both of them.

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Who put the Trope-po in your ho-ho?

  • Authority Equals Asskicking: How Neal deals with the world. In spite of his many failings as an authority figure, though, when push comes to shove he can and will kick your ass.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Lee, again. He is the nicest, most sincere, supportive subordinate Belinda could ask for except for spitting in her coffee, pumping her kids for stories of abuse, setting the faculty of the school against her, and burning her house down just so he can take her job.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Gamby, with Russell and Snodgrass' help, puts Abbott behind bars and saves the school. Unfortunately, the school couldn't ignore Gamby & Russell's trail of destruction any longer. Gamby becomes principal, but of a nearby middle school; him and Snodgrass celebrate her new book. Russell is fired entirely from the school district; he is last seen as the regional manager of a high-end clothing store. At a mall, Gamby and Russell exchange a Held Gaze across the food court, appreciative of all that the other has done for them, before each heading off to the next chapter of their lives.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • The objective of team Neal-Russell
    • It's also all but outright stated, to be the backstory of Neal Gamby. His life basically fell apart when his wife left him for another man, taking their daughter with her when she moved in with him following the divorce. Though he puts on a brave face, it's clear that Gamby is still damaged by the divorce and the fact that his daughter is slowly becoming a part of her step-father's world (abandoning horseback riding for dirt bike racing for instance).
  • The Cameo: Bill Murray in the first episode, as the departing Principal Welles.
  • Camp Straight: Lee is catty, has very a very ornate and colorful style, is obsessed with his appearance, and has very effeminate mannerisms, all stereotypical traits of gay men. Several characters assume that he's in the closet. However, he's married to a woman and seems to truly love her. He's devastated when she leaves him.
  • Cassandra: Dayshawn seems to be able to see right through Gamby.
  • Catchphrase: "That's a Gamby promise."
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Jen Abbott grows stronger and stronger into this role as the series goes.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Subverted and deconstructed with Belinda Brown is highly respected, well-educated Doctor of Education who is brought in as principal with great fanfare and high expectations, but her own home is a mess. She's married to a deadbeat, philandering husband and has two disrespectful, delinquent sons over whom she has no control without threats of beating their asses when they misbehave.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Gamby and Russell's response to someone else getting the new Principal job? They burn their house down.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Gamby is extremely undeserving of audience sympathy, romantic love, or the principal position. He is horrible to most people trying to support him like his wife's new husband Ray, hands out punishments in a thoughtless and inconsistent manner, and he even pressures students to do his bidding. He gradually learns to appreciate his support circle better, and truly advocate for his teachers and the school.
He wins the girl of his dreams, earns the respect of his daugther, greater mental peace and becomes principal of a school.
  • Enemy Mine: Gamby and Russell are rivals for the Principal seat, but team up to take down the person who leapfrogged them to get it.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Of the two, Russell is far more willing to cross the line, but several times Neal is reluctant to do so, such as when Russell wants to spike the football team's water with LSD during the big game to make them lose, or when Belinda gets smashed on gin and instead of exploiting the situation, Neal initially tries to keep her from getting out of control. He's also clearly feeling some guilt when he and Russell subsequently use the incident to force Belinda to resign.
  • Flanderization: Jen Abbott goes from being quirky to desperate and ax-crazy.
  • Freudian Excuse: Lee developed his Bitch in Sheep's Clothing tactics to survive the verbal and mental abuse at the hands of his two sisters and a father who didn't care for him.
  • Ho Yay: Gamby and Russell play around with this trope as they approach the series finale.
  • Jerkass Hasa Point: Lee Russell was power-hungry but Le Blanc was openly insubordinate to two different principals. She really needed to be fired.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Neal is a huge ass. But he truly loves his daughter, wants to protect the reputation of the school, and can be surprisingly loyal and supportive even to his enemies when he lets his guard down. Lee even shows some signs of this, honestly getting upset when his neighbor insults his wife, and late in the first season even seeming to root for Neal in his pursuit of Amanda Snodgrass.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The previews for season one made it look like the arc of the show is Lee and Neal fighting each other over the principal position. Instead of the two team up against Belinda and eventually become friends.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Ray Liptrapp, Neal's ex's new husband and stepfather to Janelle. Ray is almost oblivious to Neal's scorn, is friendly, understanding and super supportive of Neal in spite of the ultra-dickish way Neal treats him. Almost every time you see Ray, you think Neal should be buying the guy a beer.
    • Dayshawn, one of the cooks at the school is a good worker, supportive and friendly all the time to Neal even though Neal doesn't really deserve it, going so far to hook him up with a school lunch so he can sit at the teacher's table, or offering comfort to Neal when he thinks he's been jilted by Lee.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: In the penultimate episode of the series, Neal Gamby puts it all on the line to deliver an epic school-spanning beatdown to Lee Russell.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Regina Deets has more of a Southern accent in the pilot and a Mid-Atlantic accent in later episodes
  • Perspective Flip: In an interview with NPR, Danny McBride pointed out that Neal and Lee are essentially the villains, and that in any other show, the story would have had Belinda as the hero as she tries to outwit these two jackasses.
  • Red Herring: Several from the first season that seemed significant at the time, but went nowhere.
    • The diamond broach taken from Belinda's house
    • The intelligence binder on Amanda, created by Lee and found in Neal's possession by a jealous wannabe girlfriend.
    • Mr. Sason, the private investigator Belinda brought in to "evaluate" her vice principals.
  • Saying Too Much: When they try to blackmail Belinda in the finale by showing her video of her drunk, Russell goes on a tirade about all the stuff they've been doing. When he mentions they burned her house down, Belinda kicks the unholy shit out of him.
  • Stereotype Flip: Christine seems like a traditional East Asian submissive wife for the entire first season. It's not even revealed until the second season that she's the breadwinner in the family and a doctor. Additionally, she shows she is capable of standing up for herself and getting angry when lied to.
  • Smug Snake: Lee Russell, in spades.
  • Villain Protagonist: Gamby and Russell do shady and illegal things to an innocent woman for their own benefit. However, they're not entirely unsympathetic.
  • Wham Episode: End Of The Line. Belinda is ousted from North Jackson, Neal and Lee have been named Co-Principals, and all seems right with the world... until Neal rushes out to the parking lot to see his and Lee's cars turned into blazing fireballs, and ends up lying on his back after taking two pistol shots at close range. Fade to black...
  • Wimp Fight: The earlier episodes feature several between Neal and Russell before they team up against Belinda, like this epic bout during the pilot episode.
  • Work Com: Inspired in part by 80s high school comedies The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Vice Principals shows high school comedy from the adult's perspective. Even though it concentrates on the rivalry between Gamby, Russell and Brown, the day-to-day goings on of an average high school are always present.