The rise and fall of Lee Russell takes a definitive freefall in the best of ways tonight as Walton Goggins plays the part of a man who is uncovered and laid bare. This episode may have just capped off my decision to call this my favorite miniseries of all time. Vice Principals season two episode 5 “A Compassionate Man” drops one of the best episodes from the entire series to date.
This episode like the last episode centers on Lee Russell and this time it’s all about his upcoming birthday party. This episode also has important character work between Gamby (Danny McBride) and Ms. Abbott (Edi Patterson who plays a fantastic mixed up lady you probably shouldn’t trust), but this is Russell’s show. Or, in this case, his dumpster fire.
The episode opens with Russell and his wife having a nice dinner that’s interrupted with his wife’s old fling. Susan Park plays Russell’s wife Christine and she plays the part of shocked victim incredibly well. Let’s just say old dirt gets drummed up that we could totally see Russell doing and Christine sees it too. This sets up the episode as Russell’s plans for a perfect party go from bad, to worse, to just-kill-me-now levels of bad. This episode will have you feeling strange emotions, like sympathy for Russell — which you might find hard to believe since he’s such a shit from the very beginning. There’s also the awkwardness of partygoers witnessing Christine drunkenly stumble around and Gamby having to come up with a birthday speech on the fly. This show is very good at capturing the awkward and hurtful beats of life twisting them so you want to laugh and cry all at once.
While Russell falls, Gamby and Ms. Abbott are certainly rising up and this episode seems to suggest things might be going in a direction Ms. Abbott wants very badly. Patterson is flat out genius in this episode and is a delight to watch. Her ability to capture the contained chaos of her character’s actions and mind is hilarious. In one of the biggest laugh out loud moments she confesses something she did at the party to Gamby–a thing the audience should be revolted at–and Gamby loves it. It’s probably an in the moment thing, but seeing these two characters connect is somehow sweet even though Gamby and the audience knows better about Ms. Abbott’s sanity. If the show can use more of Patterson it should because she’s a delight every moment she’s on screen.
Ms. Abbot is a fantastic comedy relief valve, but I have to give props to Goggins who quite possibly could (and probably should) win an Emmy for this episode’s acting. The man does a great job capturing the weakness, insecurity, false sense of control, and complete destruction that he goes through in this episode. The sheer number of emotions and bits of chaos he bottles up into his performance is astounding. A leaf is turned so to speak, especially after the last episode which built up the source of his pain, and this episode will have you feeling sorry for the poor fool. He displays a form of the man-baby Will Ferrell made popular (and maybe even invented), but the acting is so good you might miss it since he’s so damn real the entire time.
This is a great episode of television because it captures the pain and awkwardness of real life while intermixing humor. How many of us have had a bad birthday or been to a party that got weird? This episode takes that and turns it up to 11. The characters are coming to a head and things are building, but it’s so well done it’s practically real.