Neal Gamby isn’t just vice principal of North Jackson High School. He’s a father. He’s a friend. He’s a fuck buddy. (Jen Abbott would say “boyfriend,” but Neal Gamby would most emphatically not say that.) All three roles come into conflict in “Spring Break,” and Gamby does his best to balance them all, though, once again, the past comes catching up in a way that makes that impossible.
With the school hitting spring break, Gamby plans his annual vacation to the beach with Janelle, their usual father-daughter time. Immediately he reaches a complication: On the last day of school, Abbott starts pressing him hard to come along, resorting to some fucked-up tactics (“Remember that time you tried to pull out and I leg-locked you? You sneezed inside me?”), but Gamby holds firm. However, he holds less firm when Lee Russell surprises him at home and asks to come along. Given that Russell is now officially getting divorced (and has a sweet new Jeep that would make for a fun party ride for the trip), Gamby softens a little and lets him come along. Plus, as Russell puts it, if Janelle is bringing a friend, why can’t he?
Janelle is actually bringing two friends, but that’s not as important as the fact that Abbott ambushes Neal at Ray and Gale’s home. She manages to act relatively normal (for such a thing in the first place), until she notices that Russell is going on the trip, and loses her shit, throwing the brownies she made all across the lawn. Neal Gamby is once again embarrassed in front of his kid, and this time it wasn’t directly because of something he did (which is not to say it’s not a consequence of his earlier actions).
(For the record, I actually think Gamby’s being pretty reasonable in bringing along Russell and not bringing along Abbott, but then again, if you take a broader perspective, one has to wonder how reasonable it is to be in relationships with those two in the first place.)
Janelle’s friends are typically awful 14-year-old girls; as Ray and Gale warn them, Deb is the “queen bee” who seems to be the instigator of much of their behavior. Lee Russell, of course, both immediately understands and identifies a little too much with the girls; see his comment that “We’re a carload of teenage girls headed to the beach. It’s going to get disgusting.” In that aspect, Russell’s channeling a little bit of Constance Carmell from the “Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen” episode of Party Down. Even his comments on Deb being “advanced for her age” don’t even come off as sexual so much as clinical, which might somehow be more disturbing.
So much of Lee Russell’s friendship with Neal Gamby is about what the former needs from the latter, as opposed to anything healthy for Gamby. Russell is constantly pushing Gamby into making the worst, most dangerous, and/or cruelest decisions he can. Of course he’s drawn to Deb; game recognize game, one mean girl to another.
Russell does do Gamby one major favor. When Gamby finishes reading Snodgrass’ YA novel and praises it effusively, Russell cuts to the heart of the matter: “Why are you with Abbott when you’re in love with Snodgrass?” Gamby points out that she’s with Brian Biehn, The Author and that he’d rather be with someone, anyone, than be alone. Whatever callousness Gamby displays in saying this to an newly divorced man aside, he comes to realize it’s not true, at least not for him.
Another one of Russell’s terrible decisions– cocaine and strip clubs– prods him to that realization. High on coke and wanting to talk to someone but finding Russell occupied with a stripper, Gamby calls Snodgrass, they reconnect over his high opinion of her book, and even for a moment it seems like he’s going to suggest getting back together– but a stripper interrupts him and he has to go.
We haven’t touched on Snodgrass yet, but the arts and crafts and other things festival is going about how you’d expect. She feels out of place among so many self-important writer types, not the least of which is because Brian is every bit the sleazebag Gamby suspected he was, openly flirting with an event staffer in front of Snodgrass (and referring to Amanda as “my friend” in front of her!), constantly undermining her at every turn, and eventually admitting he only sent her novel along to his publisher to have a better chance to sleep with her. So that’s that for them, certainly; Neal’s phone call to her seems to be the spark that could rekindle the embers that never went out in the fireplace of their love.
Unfortunately, Abbott tracks down the beach house where they’re all staying, confronts Neal (I’m not even going to try to explain her thought process), then checks his phone and sees that call. Neal finally breaks it off with her, and, to his credit, does so honestly and maturely, saying that he just didn’t want to be alone and that she should be with someone who, you know, likes being with her. Abbott’s response is pitiable and a little heartbreaking: “I don’t care! I’ll just take what I can get.” (Unfortunately, that lack of self-respect and subsequent possessiveness toward anything she “can get” is exactly why Neal doesn’t want to be with her.)
The Janelle plot is a little more typical, insofar as it’s another “teenage girl growing up acts out, rejects authority, gets in trouble, has regrets.” Here’s another area where I felt Gamby was doing a reasonably good job for the most part; his typical gruff authoritarianism makes a lot more sense as a parent concerned about a child. He tries to connect with Janelle, bring back memories of other times, and attempt an ill-advised prank on Deb; none of it seems to work. Finally, the kids want to go off by themselves; Gamby is worried, but Russell convinces him to “give yourself a chance to trust her.” Of course, Russell does that because he wants to party without the kids. Cue a cabana bar, a couple of margaritas, then Russell openly doing cocaine at the bar and proposing the aforementioned strip club visit.
Then cue Neal getting a call from Gale that Janelle and the girls had been arrested for shoplifting.
He’s furious, and rightly so, on the way back (again, he doesn’t get much help from Russell, who continues to act like one of the girls), and it doesn’t really seem to take. Then Abbott is awaiting when they get to the beach house, and Gamby breaks up with her.
Then we have that climactic scene.
Janelle and her friends prank Gamby with a scary mask– which happens to be the same mask worn by Gamby’s shooter, sending him into a panic. Further investigation reveals the girls got the mask from a bag in Lee Russell’s car– one which also has a gun that (presumably) matches the one that shot Gamby.
In the morning, Janelle apologizes to him in tears. “It’s okay, baby,” he says, while looking pointedly at Lee Russell. “We all make mistakes.”
One episode left. (EDIT: Correction; two episodes left.) How is Gamby going to deal with this evidence of his shooter? Will he and Snodgrass get together? Will the entire administration of North Jackson High School come crashing down over standardized test fraud? Will Gamby get shot again somehow? Is it too late for him to get out of this safe and happy? (I don’t think Lee Russell can be happy.)
- Do you think Russell did it? I think it’s definitively down to Russell or Abbott, who did have a chance to plant that evidence in Russell’s car. (It also wouldn’t make any sense for Russell to tote that evidence around in the first place, but especially so in what he describes as a new car.)
- I didn’t even touch the cold open, with the blood oath between the four (Gamby, Russell, Nash, Snodgrass) to take the secret of the test fraud to their graves. (When did and how long do you think it took Russell and Gamby to come up with “Bloody promises, bloody tips, this is how a pact is made”?)
- Hard to top Neal Gamby’s description of being single: “The lonely nights, the fear, the fruitless masturbation…”
- Fake stripper country names: Buttswana, Assghanistan, Butto Rico.
- I know Puerto Rico’s not a country. Do you think they do? Or care?
- Lee waved to Ray from the car! I’d like to see an alternate version of this series where Lee and Ray are hanging out.
- Trying to prank Deb with the “pee prank” after explaining it in the car? Amateur hour, guys.
- More Lee Russell being a mean girl: “There’s no way Janelle lost six pounds.”
- “I could have sworn this photo used to be here next to these homosexuals.”