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'Vice Principals'

HBO, July 17th
For most people, high school is a four-year sentence. For Neal Gamby, it's the hellhole he's dug himself into for life, and the only thing that keeps him going is the dream that someday he'll run the place. He's the most pitiful high-school administrator you've ever seen — especially since he's Danny McBride, who makes Gamby a comic creation worthy of Kenny Power, the slob he played to mulleted perfection on Eastbound and Down. Vice Principals is the excellent long-awaited return for Eastbound creators McBride and Jody Hill, except this time their turf is the South Carolina high school where Gamby's the vice principal gunning for the top job. McBride makes it the summer's best new comedy — he's a bundle of sweaty mid-life despair, a petty tyrant with a tragic little mustache and pompadour, seething in his sad blue school-spirit sweater vest.

As Vice Principals begins, the retiring principal of a South Carolina high school leads his two deputies in one final Pledge of Allegiance, while they flip each other off behind his back. (The principal who's stepping down? Bill Murray, in a genius cameo.) Gamsby's arch enemy is Walton Goggins from Justified, as a horrifying smarmy bow-tie dandy, always simpering and sucking up. They battle it out to take over, but to their shock, they both get passed over in favor of a new principal, who adds insult to injury by ordering Gamby to get up early every morning to teach driver's ed in the parking lot. Driver's ed? This means war.

McBride is just amazing — at least Kenny Powers always had his clueless-asshole swagger to carry him through, but Gamby is a darker character who can smell the stench of loser dust all over him. Especially when he's with his foxy ex-wife (Busy Phillips), whose motorcross-riding good old boy of a new husband (Shea Whigham) is cooler, smarter and nicer than he is. When he joins forces with his sworn enemy to bring down the new principal, it just brings out the worst in each other — McBride never stops adding to his own humiliations. His idea of acting like a boss is going around saying things like "I'm sorry you made me yell at you today." His idea of helping to mold the minds of the future is to warn his students, "You know what happens to kids your age if you smoke too much marijuana? You grow tits! Giant turkey tits, down to your knees!" Here, at last, is a true role model for America's youth.