“The Good Book” has the misfortune of mostly being a relatively pleasant episode of a series where “relatively pleasant” feels more like an atonal misstep than the proverbial calm before the storm. Up front, the Teacher Work Day framing device removes a great deal of the pressure and stresses of the high school teaching experience—the children—which ends up removing a lot of the show’s sense of urgency. Then the episode also chooses to go all-in with Vice Principals’ ‘80s film influences (of the teen genre, specifically), and everything has to fit into those boxes, whether they truly work out or not.
As the students have school off on Teacher Work Day, the teachers officially transform into the kids, all in the name of “teamwork exercises” and free tacos. And not just kids but ‘80s tropes come to life. It’s especially apparent as characters like Mr. Hayden and Ms. Abbott—who are already obstacles in their natural state—essentially become the bullying jock and mean girl of the teacher crew at the snap of a finger. Of course, this is in contrast to the wounded hero that Gamby becomes, alongside his love interest Ms. Snodgrass. At the same time, Russell becomes the goofy sleazeball sidekick (who ends up having a heart of gold), with Dr. Brown as the bumbling authority figure. It all leads to a Breakfast Club-ian teachers’ day off, and while that can evoke something beautiful with the simple knowledge that Jody Hill and Danny McBride are behind it, it also lends itself to the arguments Kyle Fowle has been making about the “rocky” and “uneven” nature of the show.
By the way, Gamby actually gets the girl in this episode. That happens here.
As much as “The Good Book” builds off of existing characterizations and really is a nicely done, surreal homage, it does more harm than good in terms of the show’s momentum and the sense that it’s got everything figured out.
On the one hand, Gamby explains that Teacher Work Days get him “all emotionally fucked up,” which can also explain why he actually gets one in the win column this time around: While he may be handling his “break-up” with his daughter pretty poorly, as a result, he’s at least opening up in a way emotionally that he wouldn’t usually. It’s the opposite of his behavior in “The Field Trip,” as he’s finally past any attempts to look cool in front of anyone, especially on Teacher Work Day. The thing is, Vice Principals doesn’t actually have any problem reaching emotional moments, but “The Good Book” tries to make an entire episode out of that and everyone being “all emotionally fucked up.” Well, that and Russell playing the role of the fool in his own expert domain. So while it works in making Gamby’s parts of the episode the strongest, the same can’t be said for the Russell and Dr. Brown plots.
As I mentioned Russell becoming the goofy sleazeball sidekick in this episode, that also means his wisdom when it comes to taking down Dr. Brown falls completely into know-nothing know-it-all territory here. His plan to convince Dr. Brown’s sons to tell him secrets about their mom never even reaches a gear where it makes sense he’d honestly think it’s a good idea. In fact, it all comes across more like a Gamby idea that Russell would mock mercilessly in any other episode. Especially as the plot ends without Russell getting any leverage over Dr. Brown’s sons at all. Yes, he catches them smoking pot, but they “make” him smoke too, and he shows them a whole bunch of porn all while talking about “secrets.” Talk about some amateur moves, Russell. It’s definitely difficult to reconcile this version of the character with the one who has thick stalker folders of information—some garnered from the trash—on every member of the high school staff.
Walton Goggins very clearly takes everything he’s given as Russell and nails it, and maybe that’s the problem… He’s so good at whatever the show gives him that it has no problem giving him weaker material like this week’s Adventures In Babysitting detour. As understandable as it is that Dr. Brown would want to punish him post-coffee loogie reveal, that use of logic still leads to a weak Russell plot, in general.
As for Dr. Brown, while peeling back her layers is really good for making her a three-dimensional character (as the whole ruination of her life would be easier to stomach if she were just a figurehead), at this point, the more layers that are peeled back, the less interesting she becomes. Kimberly Hebert Gregory is also in the same boat as Goggins, where she can deliver no matter what the material; but like Goggins, that apparently means there’s an expectation to roll with the weaker material as well. Here, Dr. Brown’s weakness for her “broke ass motherfucker” (an excellent line reading) ex-husband Dascious (Brian Tyree Henry) makes it even more ridiculous that Gamby and Russell haven’t been able to formulate a plan to oust her. Gamby’s reactions to said ex-husband—which at least results in the ridiculous image of Dascious throwing a trash can at Gamby, as well as Ms. Snodgrass joining in on a foot pursuit—are far more entertaining than Dr. Brown’s actual marital and familial issues with the man and his penis.
Two seasons. 18 episodes. That’s all there is. And after this week’s episode, there are only two episode left in this first season. Sure, Gamby crashes into a light pole, Russell pushes a clown down, and Ms. Abbott remains adamant that she shops at Nordstrom—the humor is still there. But all of that is part of one character’s plot in this episode. Vice Principals isn’t a one-man show, as Walton Goggins’ strut tries so hard to remind everyone this week.
The mounting emotions of “The Good Book” do set up a fall for Gamby and Russell, though, in one way or another. Gamby of course has Ms. Abbott’s looming threat with regards to her knowledge of the Ms. Snodgrass stalker folder, and Russell now has that whole porn/weed/secret thing with the kids. But this episode hits a real, unspoken sweet spot with the men’s friendship at this point too, which can only end messy. It’s strangely heartening to see this “enemy of my enemy” bonding turn into true friendship between Gamby and Russell, even though it’s a “true friendship” that’s always going to be marred by what caused it to begin in the first place. Especially since it becomes apparent with each passing episode that while Gamby could probably eventually live with just the friendship and not the whole life ruining aspects of it all, Russell can’t—he “needs” the destruction of Dr. Brown way too much. But both Danny McBride and Walton Goggins have really good moments in this episode of just selling their friendship, as unspoken as they may keep it. For the former, it comes in the form of his reactions to Russell teaching him how to do proper insults. For the latter, the silent ride to the hospital says every single thing.
But for all of that good characterization, there’s just as much bad characterization here. It’s uneven. It’s rocky. Is that Vice Principals as a whole?
- Apologies for the late review—I wasn’t given the gift of screener for this episode. I’m just happy I was able to fill-in for Kyle Fowle though, as I actually really like this show and am psyched I got to cover an episode (even though this obviously wasn’t my favorite).
- I’ve lived the majority of my life in the South: Arkansas, Georgia, and Florida, to be exact. I may have gotten out as soon as I possibly could, but I still can find Vice Principals and even Eastbound & Down vaguely comforting because of how familiar they are, in a way. Danny McBride and Jody Hill really do nail that type of earnest interpretation of the South, even with all the madness going on.
- Unlike Kyle, I was all in for “The Field Trip” and think that it worked better in terms of Vice Principals getting away from the series’ sabotage premise for a bit more than this episode did. That obviously had much less Russell, but at least it didn’t have him babysitting children…
- Gamby: “You want to speak a language? Or you just want to moan and groan at the top of a ladder?” For a second, I almost felt bad for how much Gamby treats Ms. Swift like crap… then she couldn’t verbalize a description of “gynecologist.” Just giggles and more giggles, without even being at the top of a ladder.
- Mrs. Leblanc should be the new principal, simply for her ability to sass Dr. Brown while also playing the guessing game correctly. Just saying.
- Words cannot describe how happy I was when Gamby called Mario and Luke “Mario and Luigi.” I needed to know that my stupid sense of humor would be acknowledged as soon as Dr. Brown said their names, and then it was.
- Even with all of the signals she’s dropping (and shooting and throwing), Gamby still thinks Ms. Abbott looks down on him. Oh, Gamby. It might be true during the lunch scene, but come on—the woman is sprung. Even when she’s supposed to be a “truck driver.”
- Is Ms. Snodgrass’ young adult novel just a bunch of human-on-dragon bestiality? Questions, comments, concerns?
- Despite the mold checks at the beginning of the episode, no child falls down a ceiling tile at any point in this episode. I’ve got to say I’m quite disappointed.