A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Vice Principals is a very dark comedy about staff politics at a high school. Two white men team up to overthrow an African-American woman, which adds the potential for racism and sexism to come into play. Violence, including scuffles between students and adults, is generally cartoonish but occasionally gets more uncomfortable, as when an administrator clearly enjoys threatening students with a spanking using a wooden paddle. Women are called "bitch" by women and men alike; cafeteria and maintenance workers at the school are called "lower class"; a man tells a boy he punches "like a woman." Cursing includes "ass," "hell," "damn," "f--k," and many permutations of these words in tense situations and includes insults ("f--khead," "c--ksucker"). An adult threatens a student, saying he'll experience rape at a new school.
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What's the story?
Two VICE PRINCIPALS team up to overthrow the hired-from-outside new principal at an average high school in this half-hour comedy created by Jody Hill (Eastbound and Down). Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins) each hoped to find themselves sitting in the head-of-school's leather-bound chair when North Jackson High School’s principal (Bill Murray, cameo-ing) retired to care for his dying wife. But the powers that be thought better of giving the job to either the openly aggressive and much-disliked Gamby or the fawning, secretly foul-motived Russell, instead handing it to an outside hire: Dr. Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory). Now the sworn enemies have teamed up, hoping to "take the bitch down," as Gamby so pungently puts it. Will Brown go down? Or are Russell and Gamby headed for the chopping block instead?
Is it any good?
Bruise-dark and fitfully funny, this comedy would be a lot easier to like if the two-white-dudes-against-one-black-woman structure didn't carry uncomfortable racist and sexist overtones with it. High schools, with their shifting alliances and Machiavellian politics, are an excellent setting for low-stakes dark comedies -- we only need to look back on the evergreen Election for proof of that -- and creator Jody Hill is similarly well-suited to wringing comedy from unlikable characters trapped in uncomfortable situations. But the underlying racial/gender overtones of this particular comedy can make the laughs a little strained. McBride, of course, excels at playing blowhards who are so obnoxious mainly because they feel small and overlooked, and he's in fine form here, as is Goggins, delightful in his kiss-uppery. But it's sometimes hard to watch two dudes vowing to destroy a powerful woman, even if the woman is clearly undaunted by the threat. It all sends a "punching down" vibe that renders the whole show a little more icky.
Still, there are great gags. McBride is unhappily divorced from ex Gail (Busy Phillips), who's now engaged to a hilariously easygoing new fella, Ray (Shea Whigham), full of support for Gamby even as the embittered vice principal curses him out. Goggins is also a scream, smiling ingratiatingly with dead eyes at anyone who buys his schtick, rubbing the principal's back and ego, and scheming madly behind the scenes. It's funny stuff -- if you can ignore the actually dark aspects of this murky comedy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about issues relating to ethics. Throughout this series, characters make unethical choices. Parents may want to ask their kids to identify those actions. They may also want to use this time to discuss issues related to school. Do they know people like the characters? What are politics like at their schools?
Vice Principals presents its main characters' actions as funny, even when they lie, steal, hurt other people's reputations, or hurt others. Is this harmful for children to watch? How can you talk to your kids about violence on TV and in movies or games?
Talk about the characters of Neal Gamby and Lee Russell. Are they heroes or role models? What is an antihero, and what role do they play in comedy?
For kids who love dark comedy
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