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‘Vice Principals’ review: Danny McBride strikes with mixed results

Left to right, Danny McBride, Kimberly Herbert Gregory

Left to right, Danny McBride, Kimberly Herbert Gregory and Walton Goggins star in "Vice Principals." Credit: HBO / Fred Norris

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO


WHAT IT’S ABOUT After the principal of North Jackson High (played in a cameo role by Bill Murray) is forced to retire to care for his dying wife, the school’s vice principals, Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins) fully expect that one of them will be appointed his successor. But not so fast, boys — the school board has other plans, and appoints Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) instead. Sworn enemies until this point, Gamby and Russell set aside their petty differences to derail the newcomer. “Vice Principals” is a bit of a rarity: It will air for only two seasons.

MY SAY “Vice Principals” is a Danny McBride comedy. To be a little more specific, “Vice Principals” is a Danny McBride of “Eastbound & Down”-renown comedy. Even more specifics: This isn’t exactly a “comedy” as much as a “study” of a type of personality and culture.

It’s a closely observed character study embedded within a carefully drawn picture of a culture that’s alien to most Northeasterners — of the modern South, with well-scrubbed suburbs that mask the casual racism and misogyny of their residents. A Georgia native, McBride is intimately familiar with this world, not necessarily enamored of it.

Like his “Eastbound” character Kenny Powers, Neal Gamby is also a son of this particular South and, like Kenny, filled with seething anger, stoked by entitlement and self-regard. He’s deserving — except that no one else besides him seems to think so. Also like Kenny, Neal doesn’t have to put his foot in his mouth because it’s already there — taken up permanent residence, in fact.

Everything he says comes out wrong: a mangled script distorted by fury and probably a suspicion that what everyone says about him is accurate. He’s a jerk, all right, and absolutely no fun to be with. But it’s also worth noting that McBride (and “Eastbound’ co-writer Jody Hill) envisioned this not as a series but as an 18-episode movie. So like Kenny, expect Neal to evolve. To what or whom? That’s for you to find out, but you can be sure Gregory’s Brown will be part of that story, and so will Goggins’ Russell (who’s even more reprehensible than Neal).

Nevertheless, keep in mind the obvious. This is a Danny McBride comedy — not exactly funny, but weirdly engaging in its own uncomfortable way. His fans should be pleased. Everyone else will be puzzled — or worse, repulsed.

BOTTOM LINE Danny McBride strikes again — with mixed results.

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