Danny McBride Says Season 2 Will Push Neal Gamby to His Limits
by Ashley Morton
This is the final season of Vice Principals, and both seasons were shot simultaneously. Why set it up this way?
We [McBride and co-creator Jody Hill] wanted to make another television show, but we didn’t want it to go on and on. We wanted to write something that was longer but had finality. The idea of splitting it into two parts and making it first semester and second semester of school, seemed like a thematically interesting way to go.
What was behind the decision to have Jody Hill direct all of Season 1 and David Gordon Green Season 2?
The part of Eastbound & Down I liked most was the little unexpected difference between David and Jody’s directing style. Originally, we had planned for Jody to direct all 30 episodes of Eastbound, but he got tied up, so at the last minute I asked David if he’d come down and direct some. I had a really good time bouncing back and forth between those two guys’ different styles. I thought it was interesting for fans to pick out their styles, and wonder which of the directors did which episodes.
By dividing Vice Principals into two parts, the guys could each take ownership of a whole season and arc of the story. I think it makes it fun for the actors as well, to see what’s it’s like to have two completely different directors take you on the journey.
Would you say that the tone of Season 2 is different from the tone of Season 1?
I think it’s definitely different than the first season. There’s still the same characters and the story, but they’re both exploring different aspects of these characters now.
Season 1 drew quite a bit from ‘80s highschool movies -- does Season 2 have any specific inspirations?
There’s always that element of an ‘80s teen movie, with adults placed in the position you usually see the students, but also in this season, because of the mystery element, we’re kind of channeling things like Brian De Palma [director of Scarface, Mission Impossible and The Untouchables] and Paul Lynch [director of Prom Night and television episodes of The Twilight Zone] in some weird ways.
The world in the show really blurs the line between the typical definitions of “you’re a good guy” or “you’re a bad guy.” Could you speak to that?
It’s one of the main points of the show, in a way. We’re not asking the audience to feel a certain way for these people, but using the audience’s knowledge of movies and shows they’ve seen before, and the cliches they’ve seen of how characters are presented. Just because someone is the main character, you assume that you’re supposed to agree with that person, and want what they want.
But Vice Principals doesn’t support that. It presents people as the main characters when they’re really -- in a large part -- the villains of the story. I think that keeps the story in an area where you’re not really sure what’s going to happen, and you’re not really sure what you want to happen.
Is getting shot at the end of Season 1 going to change Gamby?
When the show starts you definitely see a different Gamby: A wounded Gamby. There’s also the realization that [the shooter] could be anybody he knows, because he’s rubbed so many people the wrong way. That’s a bit of an eye-opener for him about what kind of man he’s become.
What’s Neal’s biggest obstacle this season?
It’s always himself. It’s himself, and ultimately his relationship with Lee Russell. He found a companion there, and he has to really make the choice about whether that friendship is a good thing or a bad thing for his own sort of soul. He wants to trust Russell; he wants Russell to be who Russell says he is. It’s just a matter of if Russell is ultimately who he says he is.
We see Neal’s relationship with Ms. Snodgrass is on the outs at the start of the season -- does Gamby doubt he deserves her?
What Gamby really suffers from is that he knows what he did in the first season was a bad thing, and he’s trying to come to terms with that and how the people around him see him. There’s a part of him that feels like he doesn’t deserve the little glimpse of happiness he saw at the end of the first season.
Is there a scene from this season that sticks out to you either as a favorite?
The scenes that really stick out in my head are all from the last two episodes. I can’t tell you too much about what they entail, but these characters are pushed to their limits. We worked really hard to make these characters realistic and grounded, so I think where the story ultimately goes and what these characters are forced to ultimately face was some of the most interesting stuff to participate in.
What does it take to balance the darkness and emotion of the series with its unique comedy?
When we write it, we never approach it as a comedy. We approach it as a drama. Ground the characters. Ground the story. When I was growing up, I’d see comedic films and I would always laugh at the first half of them, but be bored in the last 20 minutes. Because I wasn’t invested in the story enough; I was just laughing at the jokes. So for us, it was a matter of keeping people entertained the whole way through -- beginning to end -- and not just turning the climax into a one-off joke just to get it out of the way. We approached this like it was a drama and then found the comedy in people taking what they want so seriously.