Jody Hill & Danny McBride
Anyone who tells you Vice Principals is their favourite show is probably lying. They’re a contrarian, or they’re young, or they’ve been trapped in a cult for the last thirty years and this is the only TV show they’ve ever seen but, most likely, they’re lying. Because while Vice Principals is a great TV show, and it really is a great TV show, it’s not a show designed to be anyone’s favourite. I’d be surprised if it’s the creator’s partners favourite
Yet it is great! And in only 18 episodes split over two seasons. In this short run it creates a town, and a school, it has a murder mystery, the rise and fall of an empire, the growth and destruction of multiple characters ambitions and hopes and, in the process, it sees characters move from good to evil and sometimes back to good while others become eviller and others sink down into a quiet malevolent grey area. It is a comedy but also a show which at times makes you question whether you should watch on. Taking characters, you think you love, or at least like, into dark repugnant places while also submitting them to the same pain and heartbreak they caused to others and yet, all the while, still being funny and entertaining.
It’s nobody’s favourite show but it should be the benchmark for what television can aspire to, even in comedy, especially in comedy. Bespoke, twisted visions of chaos,
violence, heartbreak, triumph and revenge which can come from organic places, origins as seemingly petty as wanting to move from vice-principal to principal.
Unlike other short run shows which have attracted a cult following (such as Deadwood, Freaks and Geeks or Firefly) Vice Principals wasn’t cancelled but designed from the outset to be a flash in the pan. It was a show based on innately American subject matter but presented with the brevity and finite arc of most English comedy.
The shows main attraction and a good part of its restrained marketing campaign was that Vice Principals seemed to be either a follow-up or tangential to Danny McBride’s previous series Eastbound and Down. Similarly, to the Eastbound character of Kenny Powers McBride plays his character here, the vice-principal Neal Gamby, as loud, crude and wilfully ignorant. Gamby, like Powers, is a character trapped in a state of arrested development, a mix of juvenile reactivity and conservative defensiveness. Unlike in Eastbound McBride isn’t required to do all of the heavy lifting and is more restrained. He is the protagonist, sure, but also the straight man to Walter Goggins’ brilliantly maniacal co-vice president Lee Russell. McBride plays the perfect patsy to Goggins’ fey, manipulative, crazed yet poised, joker-like teaching bureaucrat.
Meanwhile the solid acting of the supporting cast provides a realistic grounding while
also often helping with the pivots and setups for some of the show’s best comedic moments. It’s, again, testament to how much this show achieves that it uses McBride in such a way that the tone can shift so easily and so often. Busy Phillips and Shea Whigham as McBride’s estranged wife and new partner could, themselves, be the basis for a whole show about family. In the very next scene Groundlings alumni Edi Patterson might be chewing the scenery as the simultaneously crazed lover of McBride’s Gamby and the conniving foil to Goggins’ Russel.
If this show had transposed the occupation of its character from Vice Principals to federal politicians, it would have probably won every single Emmy. It would have blown House of Cards out of the water and made them bury that crippled horse rather than try to keep it racing beyond the fall of it’s main character. It is the fact that Jody Hill and Danny McBride can mine so much from these base characters, these small stakes and local locations that makes what they produce so special.
Because apparently empty buildings are the best way to conserve the ‘vibe’.
The Old Kyneton Hospital was founded in 1857. It has been abandoned since 2005 boarded up and fenced off on the top of the hill overlooking the Campaspe river.
To the left of picture is the small red brick infectious diseases ward. Not picture, behind this building, is the small blue stone mortuary building.
There has been interest in developing the old hospital into housing but it has been met with resistance by residents amidst fears the heritage facade will be compromised. This is hardly surprising considering how garish the original planing proposals were. There is an interest group that is calling for it to continue to be used as a public space. The inside of
the property has been gutted so this move would require a large investment to make it a viable working site of any kind.
Development seems to be the best option for the site but allowing such poorly fitting plans to be proposed have understandably worried residents. If the development plan had been more fitting for the area it may not have seemed to prohibitive to residents. That said, the reluctance to renovate the hospital is perhaps representative of a growing conflict in the Macedon ranges area. The population and housing prices are increasing as people look to move outside of Melbourne’s overcrowded suburbs.
It is hard to know if there is any rhyme or reason as to which groups are conservative and who are progressive in terms of development. Anecdotally it seems the more senior long term residents and new residents are interested in conserving the old and quiet feel to the town. In the case of senior residents who may be retired there is no incentive to allow growth of any kind in the area. Similarly newer residents may who have moved from Melbourne are likely to work and socialize in the city. They may not need increased business in their new country homes and, potentially, not wish to see development in the hope that property prices will continue to rise and offer them capital appreciations.
Longer-term residents of the area who are younger or middle-aged, who have lived longer, worked and socialise in the area are potentially more interested in seeing sites such as this be utilised. In addition to the hospital also contains several abandoned pubs and factories.
This difference becomes stark when there are new and senior residents who organise Facebook groups and events to save the old Kyneton hospital building. Meanwhile long-term residents who were actually patients at the hospital shudder at the memory of being treated inside those blue stone walls in its latter years. Again this is anecdotal rather than necessarily representative but seems to reflect the growing tension between residents and traders to towns opening up to cater for growing populations.
This isn’t a new situation. For decades the changes in primary industry and retail have led to downswings in country towns throughout Australia and probably throughout the world. Small towns are usually prone to high youth unemployment and above average general unemployment rates. A new study also shows the prevalence of homelessness among these small regional areas.
The old Kyneton hospital is a an empty shell growing ever closer to collapse through sheer lack of action. Some of the blame lies with developers because, well some of the blame always lies with developers who, as always, were greedy in their proposal. It is understandable that residents have sought to preserve the heritage facade of the building. It is inexcusable that so much land, and potential housing, in this and the many other buildings in the area have been allowed to languish while there is homelessness and rising property prices.
The Kyneton hospital is an example of why interest groups, council members and politicians should hesitate to so quickly bemoan the lack of jobs, rising property prices or the exodus of the youth from regional areas. Large buildings like this and the steel casting factory have stood vacant for decades. Half the businesses in town are empty or for sale and many are reluctant to stay open late lest slow trade cuts into their daily profits. In situations like this where the lack of action seems almost an act of self-sabotage its often hard to know if the councils, red tape, indecision or indecisiveness is representative of sheer incompetence or a weak form of corruption.