If you wondered whether Vice Principals could recapture the same lunacy that marked its first season on HBO, then allow me to remind you that Danny McBride and his usual crazy comedy team of Jody Hill and David Gordon Green filmed both seasons back-to-back two years ago.
So they not only didn’t take into account your reactions to season one, but also: They didn’t care.
As co-star Walton Goggins confided to me and a couple of other reporters following a season two launch event in Brooklyn earlier this month, what attracted Goggins to Vice Principals was the very fact that McBride, Hill and Green don’t allow pop culture to influence them. They influence pop culture, Goggins said.
How right he is.
McBride, Hill and Green upended expectations with their first hit series for HBO, Eastbound and Down. For their follow-up in Vice Principals, they’ve ramped up the ridiculousness, the violence and the surprising plot turns to the point where the viewer really doesn’t know where the story will go within any given episode. You might shake your head one moment. Gasp the next. Then laugh out loud seconds later.
I was there at SXSW 2016 when they premiered a sneak peek at the first season.
At the sneak peek at season two, we saw that Neal Gamby (McBride) has survived his assassination attempt, but returned to North Jackson High to see Lee Russell (Goggins) has made major changes to the school between semesters.
McBride felt lucky to find Goggins to play his counterpart, ally and foil.
“We were at a complete loss. There wasn’t anybody that we could think of that we felt really had what it took to bring Lee to life, and I think it was David Green who had suggested Walton. Instantly we were all, ‘YES,’ that’s who we have to talk into doing this, because that character of Lee is so tricky. He’s hilarious and he’s vile, but there has to be a level of charisma there so you can actually watch him, and that was something we felt that Walton was just going to be able to nail perfectly,” McBride said.
Goggins certainly filled all of those bills previously in FX’s Justified.
Although Goggins said it was intimidating at first to enter the production as an outsider to McBride, Hill and Green’s University of North Carolina School of the Arts posse.
“The very time I showed up in Charleston, we went out to dinner. It was Danny and like 30 people that are working on the show that happened to go to college with him,” Goggins said.
McBride often describes Vice Principals as “a nine-hour film,” but that said, the two seasons have distinct tones to them.
They ensured that by having Hill direct the entire first season, and Green the entire second season, and McBride said they also swapped out directors of photography, too.
“The audience is not sure what’s going to happen, and they’re not sure if they even — they don’t know what they even want to have happen. ‘Cause you’re watching these dudes basically just ruin people’s lives, do all these terrible things,” McBride said. “So for us, if we were to write this story from a traditional standpoint, I think it would be very, you’d understand where it was going. I think anyone would kind of identify. But I think when you make those (two rival vice principals) the main characters, it’s not really justifying their behavior. It just makes the story come from a stranger, weirder place.”
Goggins said the unpredictability continues all the way through, “and it reaches this sublime kind of conclusion, and you just go, ‘yeah, yeah, that’s what those guys do.'”
So stay tuned!