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Vice Principals – The Complete Series (DVD Review)

HBO’s Vice Principals was another in the lines of limited run series from HBO, like The Night Of or True Detective. Planned as a focused 18 episode story (Or a 9 hour movie as the creators would put it), the premium cable network ran the show in two halves and got two years out of it. A team-up of Danny McBride and Walton Goggins headlined what felt like a perfect matchup, and indeed it played out as one. While the first season of Vice Principals was given a Blu-ray release from HBO, they’ve taken a hard left with it and dramatically changed course. At this time, there is no release of season two by itself at all. As a matter of fact, no Blu-ray of it, even. They will be release a Complete Series set on DVD only. A very odd choice from a studio that tends to be on the up and up with performance quality and has even gotten into 4K Ultra-HD. Its very strange and probably pretty confusing or frustrating for many collectors, but this is the hand we’ve been dealt. Luckily, if you want to take two steps back in terms of quality, its rather inexpensive and also comes with a Digital HD version of the entire series when it streets April 10th.

Series 

Vice Principals focuses on ill-tempered, dogmatic, and disliked vice principal of North Jackson High School Neal Gamby, and his ambitions of being promoted to the principal’s chair when the principal is due to step down.

HBO’s mini-series(?)/elongated feature(?)/intentionally short lived show(?) Vice Principals felt like it was here and gone all to quick. That has a lot to do with how great it was, and just how perfect every thirty minute installment was. Starting out as a film conjured up by Jody Hill and Danny McBride (The braintrust of the 2006’s brilliant The Foot Fist Way), but running too long in even the thought phase, they decided to just take it to television with the idea they were just making a long movie. This sounds ever so dangerous, seeing how it could potentially be like a Netflix series and run many episodes too long and suffering from boring filler. However, these two knew how to make each installment count, have purpose, carry a season/series long narrative and also remember and focus on keeping each episode a self contained entity on its own.

The sooner we can pair up Danny McBride and Walton Goggins together again, the better our world will be. Both are terrific on their own and are delivering their usual goods in spades. When they come together, they look and behave like they were made to share a screen together. Danny McBride should have guested on Justified at some point, damnit! Both characters and actors have a schtick to them and the show isn’t afraid to have both play it up. It doesn’t solely rely on that, as Hill and McBride are much smarter than this. The actors and the script manage to not forget that these two clowns are human. They do some monstrous and heinous things, but at the end the day both have motivations for doing such and in term have to deal with the consequences of their actions. You not only get this in their dialogue, but the performers are also just physically able to show this weight.

One of the things about Vice Principals that had many proclaiming it to be the “best show on TV” was its well deserved and totally fitting shock factor. There were decisions made that you would definitely think in your head, but to see a show actually have the bravery to pull off and do so is another thing. There were so many moments that I could not believe what I was watching. Moments where I felt dirty or like a shithead for snickering or just guilty of being a witness to what our two protagonists(?) were doing to someone else (Especially season 1). But, what elevates it all to greatness is to watch it take its toll on McBride’s Gamby in many ways and watch his regret and desire to make a correct choice or confess their guilt. What seems like such a simple, silly character type we’ve seen McBride do in his sleep is actually someone with great depth and a real heart when it comes down to it (To be honest, most of his characters come from a place of honest, but this may be the best he’s given us). On the other hand, Goggins gives us the full swing and rise of a vile and vein man with a strong desire to have respect and ultimately take a big fall from grace to then become something else by the end.

One of the more overlooked aspects of Vice Principals was the score by Joseph Stephens. Television shows usually will have a notable theme or song paired with it and nobody ever really then focuses or notices the rest of the music in the episode. I’m guilty of this common mishap myself. Luckily, I watched quite a few of the episodes during season 2 with headphones and was actually blown away by what I was hearing. I didn’t remember any of the season 1 scores hitting such a chord with me, so I went back headphones-style and yes, it was there all along. Stephens score really has some eventful synth music that sets all kinds of moods, including some really terrific haunting and eerie melodies. Yes, at times there’s a harkening back to stuff like a 1980s Tangerine Dream scored film, but this stuff does more than that and has its own purpose while just preferring that certain style that fits the show when you really wouldn’t think it. I really recommend going back to an episode or two with headphones and checking it out for yourself.

While I was bummed out when all HBO released of this fantastic series was a DVD, I came around to the fact that it was something that I just wanted to make sure I owned. And for now (Until the dawn of the great internet digital movie purge of the future happens) I have the show in HD digitally that I can watch. In a reverse way I normally do with my collection, the DVD can be used as back up. Its a show that does reward with multiple viewings while still being very engaging. I’ve been a fan of Jody Hill and Danny McBride ever since McBride caught my eye when I saw a test screening of Pineapple Express back in 2007 and tried to find out all I could about him which led me to The Foot Fist Way and my furious anticipation of Paramount finally releasing it (To which was one of the funnest moviegoing experiences I’ve had). Vice Principals did not disappoint, and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead for Hill & McBride. Of note, McBride’s other collaborative partner David Gordon Green directed almost half of these episodes and he and McBride will have the new Halloween movie out later this year (And you know I’m pretty damn excited for that one!).

Episodes

Season 1

  • The Principal
  • A Trusty Steed
  • The Field Trip
  • Run For the Money
  • Circles
  • The Foundation of Learning
  • The Good Book
  • Gin
  • End of the Line

Season 2

  • Tiger Town
  • Slaughter
  • The King
  • Think Change
  • A Compassionate Man
  • The Most Popular Boy
  • Spring Break
  • Venetian Nights
  • The Union of the Wizard & the Warrior

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-2 NTSC

Resolution: 480i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: DVD-9

Clarity/Detail: Yep, I’m just as disappointed as everyone, except the guy who just finally bought a DVD player. Why bring the first season on Blu-ray and not follow up with the second? Nope, we get to back track the first season to lesser quality and deliver the second. And not just in SD, but cram all 9 episodes onto one disc. This image feels kinda thin and lacks a full, solid, bold projection you’d get from a modern video. Colors are dingy looking and details are definitely lacking. For a DVD, this is fine, but I’ve even seen better in terms of SD DVDs in modern times. Overall this’ll have to do, but your Digital HD copy probably holds more value than this.

Depth: It does the best with what we’re given, but the nature of the beast is a flatter experience. Movements are fine, but still muddled by some jitter/blur during the more rapid bursts.

Black Levels: Blacks are solid, complete with some crushing issues in every episode. Details are hidden when things like the scene or clothing or texture is too dark.

Color Reproduction: Colors are decent enough. As I mentioned the whole image is just kind lacking a bold punch and it extends to the colors. Blues, Oranges, Reds and Greens come through best.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and look consistent from episode to episode for the whole season. Facial details come across best in a close up of an actor.

Noise/Artifacts: Typical DVD issues are abound here.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital (Season 1 only), Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai (Season 1 only)

Dynamics: The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is pretty good. A better experience than the video. Its got some punch and more than does the trick here with a good balance that actually finds itself some good intricacies in the mix. The drums and such at the beginning are always a real treat.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Drums, the score, gunfire, engines and things slamming and crashing actually do an impressive job of bumping your subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: Its a more front heavy mix, but there are some nice contributions from the rear channel. Movement and placement up front are pretty accurate.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and plenty audible at all times.

Extras 

Vice Principals – The Complete Series is 3-disc set that comes with a digital copy of every episode.

Disc 1

Audio Commentary

  • Episode 1 – With Danny McBride, Walton Goggins, Georgia King, Jody Hill, Busy Phillips, Kimberly Hebert Gregory
  • Episode 2 – With Danny McBride, Walton Goggins,  Jeff Seibenick (editor) John Carcieri (co-writer), Sarah Trost (costume designer)
  • Episode 3 – With Sarah Trost, Mike O’Gorman, Edi Patterson, Danny McBride, Joey Stephens (composer), Georgia King
  • Episode 4 – Danny McBride, Jody Hill, Jeff Fradley (writer/consulting producer), Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Ashley Spillers
  • Episode 5 – Danny McBride, Jody Hill, John Carcieri, Sarah Trost, Walton Goggins, Hebert Gregory

Deleted Scenes (SD, 15:04) 

Disc 2

Audio Commentary

  • Episode 6 – Danny McBride, Jody Hill, Walton Goggins, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Georgia King, Mike O’Gorman
  • Episode 7 – Danny McBride, Jody Hill, John Carcieri, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Georgia King, Edi Patterson
  • Episode 8 – Danny McBride, Jody Hill, John Cacieri, Walton Goggins, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Georgia King
  • Episode 9 – Danny McBride, Jody Hill, John Carcieri, Walton Goggins, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Georgia King

Deleted Scenes (SD, 3:31)

Blooper Reel (SD, 4:57)

Disc 3

Deleted Scenes (SD, 17:15)

Blooper (SD, 7:15)

Summary 

Vice Principals is one of the greatest things HBO has produced, being both hilarious, shocking, thoughtful and even suspenseful at times. This damn thing runs the gamut. However, the quality of the show isn’t really the question here, its the quality of how the show looks and sounds. I’m not going to lie, its real bummer this is a DVD only release. Its 2018 we should be surprised if there even is a DVD release by now. Given what we have here, the show has a solid DVD presentation. Yes, we feel cheated not getting the Blu-ray release, but if we are judging a DVD among DVDs, then yes, this is good enough quality at a very reasonable price. As a concession, you get to have a physical copy of Vice Principals while also having the ability to watch it in HD via the digital copy included.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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