Vice Principals S01E06 Recap: 'The Fundamentals of Learning'

I'm afraid I might have been a little hasty in handing out Vice Principals's first 10 out of 10 with last week's episode. Not to say that it necessarily didn't deserve it, or that I would take ever take it back (that's not how I operate as a reviewer). Just that I may have been premature in declaring that as the peak of what this show had to offer. The lines that came out of the Circles idea, the bond forged between Lee and Neil, the culmination at the very end with Neil helping his new and possibly only friend take down that bully, it was great.

That seems to be a feeling that's carrying over for me with this show. Every Sunday I find myself anticipating it, not unlike I might some other Sunday night sitcoms, like Veep or The Last Man on Earth. Danny McBride and Jody Hill have struck on a combination of familiarity and unexpectedness that has made Vice Principals must-see TV, and quickly jump up into the pantheon of great post-modern sitcoms. Maybe contributing to that is their experience with this sort of thing, having worked together for so long on Eastbound and Down. Maybe it's the chemistry of the cast, or how they got a lot of character development and exposition out of the way early. Maybe it's the show's natural finality, as we know this will only ever last two seasons. Whatever it is, it's worked, and it's put the show in a place where it can continue to top itself, even when you think that it's peaked.

What's more, this week's episode, "The Foundations of Learning", was the first among six that felt, in a certain sense, "regular", lending further credence to that idea of familiarity. It felt kind of "sitcom-y", for lack of any better term. The now well-established characters got themselves into somewhat ridiculous situations that escalated throughout the episode before cringily blowing up in all their faces. There's nothing unexpected of Snoddgrass latching on to that douchey teacher Bill and getting rejected. Or Neil taking the idea of taking interest in his daughter's hobbies to an unnecessary extreme. Or Lee getting too cocky in his knocking down of Brown and getting caught.

These are things I've come to expect from these characters, for the most part, and they don't act uncharacteristically. When Neil gets on that dirt bike at the end of the episode, it plays out in a way that's so absurdly predictable that it almost hurts. He tries to pop a wheelie to impress his daughter and knock Ray down a peg, even though Ray's a nice guy who clearly gets what he's doing and cheers for him anyway. But he crashes the bike and gets himself kicked out of the venue, which only drives his daughter away. Similarly, Snoddgrass only turns to Gamby - a person whom she seems to always be one step away from being disgusted by - for help switching her schedule to be with Bill and frankly check on him to make sure he didn't dump her for some fluzie TA. It's typical wounded behavior. But their actions drive them to one-another. That's growth for the show and an unexpected outcome. Neil embarrasses himself, and if Snoddgrass wasn't hurt by Bill she wouldn't have been attracted to that. Alas, she is, and will they now be together? How does that affect the dynamic of the show? Will Neil be as power hungry now that he potentially has something else to cling on to?

Combine that with what happens to Lee, who takes point on a plot to pit Dr. Brown against a well-liked English teacher with the attitude of someone with tenure and plenty of connections at the school board and teacher's union. They "misplace" some textbooks to make it appear as if the English teacher is stealing them, and Russell goads Brown into getting into a confrontation with one, one that goes all the way to the school board, at which point the books mysteriously reappear. Mission accomplished, right? Brown loses standing with the teachers, with the school board, and she's humiliated. It's perfect, except for how Russell's deleterious ego forces him to spit in her "special coffee" for good measure, just as Brown walks in. He tries to come up with excuses, but Brown knows what's up, and now she has wind of what Lee is capable of, and that all these convenient circumstances could have been easily orchestrated by someone with the kind of unfettered access a longstanding vice principal would have.

What's most important here isn't that Lee gets caught just enough to put a smart woman like Brown on the trail. What's most important is that it's only him, and not Neil, who now may be preoccupied by things other than his power hunger. And that means another dynamic shift in the power dynamics of the show, one week after they had seen another major shift. Last week, Neil and Lee forged a bond that could only be inevitably broken by the basic concept of the show. This week's episode could potentially accelerate that. Lee gets caught by Brown, but only after the plan works. So both of them are at a disadvantage. Neil has an alibi, but he could also now be preoccupied.

The ever-shifting power dynamics are probably the most intriguing aspect of this show, and it makes an episode like this one rise above your standard sitcom levels. What really puts it over the top, however, are the production values and how gut-wrenchingly funny it can be. Look no further than the quotes below for proof of that. As for the production values, everything in this episode is just perfect. The seemingly misplaced eighties synth soundtrack makes this feel like a bad movie from that era, and there's no better aesthetic for the show than that. Little things like catching Ray cheering for Neil, or Lee and Neil having conversations on forklifts, or how Neil treats the new secretary in order to break her in. It makes the show feel alive.

"The Foundations of Learning" somehow manages to top the great things Vice Principals has already accomplished, and for that, it gets 10 buried jars of kim-chi out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

Line of the Night:

Quote:

"Just get inside! I will dig up all your fucking kim-chi!"

  • "Who's Ray?" "He's a man with limited abilities. I'm going to master his talents and render him useless."
  • "Go ahead and leave the door open. I'm just kidding, I just wanted to see your body again."
  • "I can't believe you have a nemesis named Ray, what a stupid fucking name."
  • "Neil!" "Gail! I can say your first name too, okay? You're not special, don't act like you are."
  • "I will take those birkenstocks and shove them up your pretentious ass."
  • "Do you know what happens to kids your age if you smoke too much marijuana? You grow tits. Giant turkey tits hanging down to your knees."
  • "Mr. Union Man can kiss my ass."
  • "I'm sorry you made me yell at you today, good evening."
  • "Janelle, Gail. Cuckold."