Vice Principals S2E6, “The Most Popular Boy”

In which high school never ends

Well, it didn’t happen quite as quickly as I thought it might, but the seeds planted the last two episodes of Gamby replacing Russell started to blossom this episode, as the teachers make increasingly evident their disdain of Russell and acceptance of Gamby. Gamby might ordinarily revel in this, but what complicates matters is his knowledge of Russell’s home life. “I can’t even get my wife to be my friend,” Russell pleads at one point.

That, of course, is because Christine has discovered the foundation of lies the Russell marriage is built on; she’s pretty near her breaking point already, in the first scene after the credits, when she and Lee go back and forth with “honesty checks,” apparently a new policy instated to try to repair said foundation of lies. This mostly ends up with them admitting they’ve been trying to avoid one another (and, hilariously, Lee’s disgust with his mother-in-law). Lee, over swelling strings (I like to think that even the score is suckered in by his promises), says he’ll cook dinner that night.

Of course, Lee Russell can’t do anything on the straight and narrow, and what starts with a lovely dinner engagement– complete with heartfelt Lee Russell confession about how he considers his marriage sacred– turns ugly quickly when Christine discovers Lee didn’t cook any of the food for dinner, like he said he would. Lee tries to explain this away with more lies, and even if he doesn’t know it yet, this is the moment he’s lost Christine.

Meanwhile, Gamby’s story starts with the cold open, in which his early-morning reconnaissance with Nash and Russell isn’t attended by the latter (though the former discovers his dalliance with Abbott). Despite her three months working for a PI, Nash is worse than useless on the investigation of Gamby’s shooter; she concludes it’s Gale, because “It’s usually someone close to you.” (Abbott breaks through Gamby’s window and comes outside right after this– coincidence?)

Gamby is miffed that Russell didn’t show, so at the meeting to discuss whatever meaningless state-assigned tests the teachers have to administer, Gamby cracks jokes while Russell is speaking (and pissing off the teachers, of course). Abbott sees his growing popularity there and in the lunchroom and decides to groom him into becoming “the most popular boy in school.” Cue a visit to the mall and a makeover montage, and Gamby coming out of it with a look that, as Ray says, “You got sort of a Max Headroom thing going on.”

Gamby confronts Russell over neglecting his investigation, and they have a bit of a tiff– where Gamby reveals he’s been invited by the teachers to Payday Drinks (he even calls it “PDD”), a sign of acceptance at the Cool Kids Table, and Russell lashes out before confessing he’s jealous and lonely. So Gamby invites him along. Of course, no one wants him there; Gamby, true to form of the kid trying to appease the cool group he wants to become part of, goes with Abbott’s lie that he brought Russell there to embarrass him. (He should really notice by now that every time he gives Abbott something she wants, she amps up the craziness in return.)

On the one side, Abbott seems to represent Gamby’s darker impulses, his drive for power and thrills and acceptance. On the other, Snodgrass is his innate decency, a reflection of the character that led people to respect him even when they didn’t like him. This episode as much as any throws the two in contrast; Abbott makes Gamby over and talks loudly about how they’re in love, because, as she says, “Image is everything”; meanwhile, Snodgrass seems to puncture every blowhard statement or affected gesture of Gamby’s by reminding him that he knows what truth and goodness really are. (It’s not for nothing that she’s the only one who doesn’t go along with the teachers’ plan for the test.)

Russell, however, sincerely enjoyed his time out, and invites Gamby and Abbott in for a celebratory nightcap… only to discover the house cleaned out. Christine is gone. Mi-Cha is gone. The furniture is gone. Nothing but a letter from Christine in the middle of an empty floor. Russell is left devastated, wailing, “What did I do to deserve this?” Well, a lot, to be honest. Oh, and also, the teachers have conspired not to teach to the standardized test, which will reflect poorly on Russell and get him fired.

Neal Gamby’s problem is that he can’t decide between being a good friend, being a good administrator, and getting what he wants for himself, and we see that in his response to Lee Russell’s personal and professional crises. He wants to be a friend to Lee when he discovers Christine’s Dear John letter and breaks down, but crumbles under pressure from Abbott. And while getting Lee fired would get him what he wants for himself, and is honestly probably the best thing for the school, going about it this way isn’t, and Gamby still stands by his friendship with Russell even though Russell can only seemingly call on it out of desperation. So with the aid of Snodgrass (and Nash, who inadvertently walks in on them) they help Russell doctor the kids’ tests.

Who knows if it will work? But at least for now, Lee Russell knows he has a friend. Maybe even two or three. With only two episodes left, though, everything has to come to a head soon. What will happen, what will people do, and what will the fallout be?

EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES

  • Obviously I chose that opening tagline because of how thick this episode was with the teachers acting like high school students, perhaps from an 80s movie. My favorite example is the date at the mall, complete with Abbott and Gamby’s conversation regarding butt-grabbing and who’s getting something nice.
  • Related, we got a massive number of 80s references, too. Beyond Ray’s comparison of Neal to Max Headroom, we got Neal referencing Timbuk 3’s classic, we got “Walk the Dinosaur” and “Escape (the Pina Colada Song)” at karaoke, we got Neal’s dorky “Smooth move, Ex-Lax” and “Take a picture, it lasts longer,” and in my favorite subtle touch, Abbott’s “Image is everything,” straight from the Canon EOS Rebel commercial featuring the then-mulleted then-bad boy-who-wasn’t-John-McEnroe of tennis, Andre Agassi:

    (Don’t pay attention to the 1990 date; I found another source that says the ad campaign started in 1989, so it still counts)

  • Speaking of Abbott, it’s hard to call a line more disturbing than “If you left me, I would kill myself,” but she gives it a run with “Popularity is like war. There are rules of engagement.” Also that dress at PDD.
  • Speaking of clothing, I straight-up ripped off this image from the AV Club review because there was no way I wasn’t going to have a picture of Gamby in his linen suit as the header.

Some of my favorite lines:

  • On geography, Western Hemisphere and location of boyfriends therein
    GAMBY: I see you didn’t bring your old man.
    SNODGRASS: Brian is in South America.
    GAMBY: I guess he’s getting the real-deal Mexican food down there.
    SNODGRASS: No, because he’s in South America. Mexico is in North America.
    GAMBY: …Well, someone should tell the Mexicans, they think they’re in South America.
  • Favorite line of the episode is a tossup between these two:
    • On being understood
      RAY: Hume said patriotism and popularity are the beaten road to power and tyranny.
      GAMBY: See? I knew Ray would understand.
    • On pattern art
      SEYCHELLES: This one wrote out ‘cum’! I guess there’s no room for ‘ejaculate’ or ‘spermatozoa.’

      • Poor Seychelles. Yeah, that’s the only reason your students aren’t using those words.
  • I gotta conclude with this one:
    • On things Handsome Boy Modeling School can do for you
      ABBOTT: You’re like a diamond in the rough, and I want to be the one to scrape off that gross black stuff.