HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Vice Principals: The Complete First Season
HTS Overall Score:75
After the success of Danny McBride and Jody Hill’s last project, “Eastbound and Down” I was really looking forward to “Vice Principals”. The only thing that was keeping me from out and out binge watching it on HBO during my busy season was critical responses of how political it was. Comment after critical comment tried to push race issues and Donald Trump comparisons into the show so I ended up just waiting until I could review the series instead of watching week by week. Color me a bit surprised when I get ahold of the show and come to find out that most of the criticisms were just another excuse for some people to try and insert politics into everything, or take popular media and compare it to politics so that they can make a statement about said politics in the guise of a review. Now, they’re not wrong in stating that “Vice Principals: The Complete First Season” is a bit of an acquired taste. It’s less “Eastbound and Down” funny and more like “Observe and Report”, which was billed as a comedy, but was in reality a dark drama about a psychopathic megalomaniac.
The first season of “Vice Principals” is what I would like to call an unfunny comedy that makes you laugh nonetheless. The first episode is really where the laugh out lack “slapstick” style comedy begins and ends. We have Jackson High School entering a new phase of its existence. The current principal (played by Bill Murray for all of 10 minutes) is retiring to be with his dying wife, leaving the position of Principal open to the next in line. The thing is, there are two next in lines. Vice Principals Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walter Goggins), both of whom are chomping at the bit to become the successor. Both men are vindictive and childish, doing and saying whatever it takes to get in, but despite their best efforts at sucking up to the superintendent, another person is selected as head of the school. In comes Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Herbert Gregory), a no nonsense African American principal who is known for being one of the best Principals on the market.
Even though they haven’t got the job (yet), Gamby and Russell are going to do WHATEVER it takes (and we mean whatever) to discredit Dr. Brown and open up that position once more. Even if that includes setting fire to her house, talking bad behind her back and whatever diabolical things the two men can think of to get her OUT and one of them in again. This is where the series gets dark fast. The first episode has the same “Eastbound and Down” style slapstick humor with Walter Goggins being Tweedledum and Danny McBride being Tweedledumber, especially in the face of Dr. Belinda Brown coming in and stealing their job. But as the show progresses the literal laugh out loud humor fades into the background as we watch Gamby and Russell start to get real nasty real fast. When I said these men were willing to do ANYTHING to get Dr. Brown out, I meant ANYTHING. Both characters devolve into their baser forms and start to peel back Dr. Brown’s weaknesses little by little in hopes that once the sweet meat is laid bare the two hungry wolves can just devour her.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90418[/img]Initially we’re under the impression that these are just two ticked off and under paid vice principals who are going after a duplicitous invader. Dr. Brown seems like she is a bit of a two-faced witch, bringing in the charm and smiles on the surface, while a more vicious side hovers underneath. As each episode continues on the roles slowly reverse. Dr. Brown is a lot more sensitive and understanding underneath her hard exterior, while the two “heroes” of the show turn out to be nothing but emasculated men lashing out about the problems that they each suffer from at home. Neal Gamby is the unlikeable jerk of the school, but he has a reason for that. He’s dealing with loneliness and depression from his wife leaving him for another man and his daughter slowly slipping away from him, while Russell is taken to task by his Korean mother in law and left feeling like and impotent fool. Both men are now taking out there aggressions at home on the only thing they can lash out against. Dr. Brown.
As much as it sounds like there’s no humor in the show, there really is. It’s just a biting and dark humor that is more taken from the foibles and mental breakdowns of the two feuding Vice Principals more than “Eastbound and Down” style slapstick humor. Danny McBride is sadly overplayed a bit in the show, with much of the down time between the two of them focusing on HIS life (I guess it comes from Danny actually co-writing the show), but it’s Walter Goggins (of “Justified” fame) who really is the scene stealer. I feel in love with Goggins from back when he was doing “Shanghai Noon” with Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson, but he’s one of those actors like Bryan Cranston who just can’t turn in a bad performance.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90426[/img]“Vice Principals: The Complete First Season” comes to Blu-ray in much the same look that other modern HBO comedies like “Ballers” does. It looks slightly glossy with boosted white levels and a sort of pale look to the faces. Colors are solid with good saturation on the purple colors of the Rams, or the bright red of the blood on Walter Goggins face after getting punched out by his bodybuilding neighbor. Otherwise there’s a lot of pastels and more pale shades of brown, blue and grey scattered throughout the show. Contrast levels are fine, but I did notice some tweaks to the white levels (mentioned above) that make skin tones a bit whiter than normal. Blacks are solid, and show some decent shadow detail in the limited darker sequences. It’s a perfectly acceptable encode from HBO, even though there is a slight bit of softness that seems to persist due to the shooting style.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=90434[/img]Being a comedic drama, “Vice Principals” has a very decidedly front heavy nature to the 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on the discs. Dialog is the main focus of the show, and that is replicated precisely and with great detail throughout every crazy hijinks going on. Surrounds get some decent activity with the duo wrecking Dr. Brown’s house, or the sound of a motocross even where Gamby’s daughter is participating, but overall the main focus of the show tends to stay in the front three speakers. LFE is good, showing up when needed (such as the again mentioned house burning down), but staying in the background for a good majority of the show, only populating the various crashes and bangs along with the score. It’s simple, but a very effective track for the genre.
• Deleted Scenes
• Blooper Reel
• 9 Audio Commentaries With Cast and Crew
“Vice Principals” IS a bit of an acquired taste, I will give you that. The dark comedy intertwines itself heavily with the DARK side of that comedy, making it one of the unfunniest comedies that you will actually laugh at. It never heroizes our main two characters, but really does a good job at showing how their infantile and embarrassing antics actually make them less and less likeable as the show goes on. You gain a certain respect for their enemy and learn to pity, despise and laugh Gamby and Russell by the end of the first season. I’m honestly curious about how next season is going to turn out considering the season finale, but I’m definitely going to be there and find out. Audio and video are on par with modern HBO comedy shows and I’d definitely recommend checking out the show if you’re a fan of brutally dark comedies.
Starring: Danny McBride, Walter Goggins, Kimberly Herbert Gregory
Created by: Danny McBride, Jody Hill
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 2.0
Runtime: 269 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 7th, 2017
Buy Vice Principals: The Complete First Season Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Acquired Taste
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