[Caff Note: Give a cordial welcome to new OL contributor Sneaky Pete.]
The magic behind HBO’s Eastbound & Down is the dark authentic grittiness in which an idealistic plot is laid out early on each season, and the sadistically twisted corruption of that ideal as the season unfolds. In some primordial way, it reminds us of the daily incertitude of our own insignificant existence. All this dark meat is surrounded by a sesame seed bun of high-brow intellectual wit and low-brow slapstickery, making its esoteric depth quite palatable to the masses.
Our anti-hero, Kenny fucking Powers, an improbable superstar pitcher fallen from grace, is at his best when spitting venom in the form of arrogant condescension at the mehumes he now encounters on a daily basis. Danny McBride embodies the character so well, that I have no problem believing that KP exists in real life. The fantasy goes even further if you follow Kenny on twitter. The attention to detail in character development is really what makes such a ridiculous show so believable.
But he does tend to come up short when engaging some of the awkward realness that arises when two worlds collide. The show’s comedic momentum manages to keep him from sinking when these inevitable dry moments do occur as it pulses naturally back and forth from dark drama to humor. The result, is a show unlike any other in this country. The American cousin to the similarly great Trailer Park Boys, which was the pinnacle of Canadian comedy for the better part of last decade. But I digress.
When we last left Kenny, he somehow managed to ditch his freshly conquered his demons in Mexico, pitching his way back to American baseball as his alter ego, La Flama Blanca. He returns to his forlorn Shelby in ‘scoop mode’ ready to snatch up April Bigcannons and dash off into the sunset in blaze(d) glory. Indubitably, his plans go south as we find not only is April uninterested in said scoopery, but is unexpectedly preggers with the next generation of Powers’s. Despite a faint tinge of formulaic predictability, it was still the kind of dramatic cliffhanger that makes Stallone’s neck veins twitch.
Soon after the last season’s finale, I sadly schlumped into the apathetic malaise of tv misadventure, longing for Kenny’s triumphant return so I may once again be made to care about next weeks drop. After what seemed like a lifetime, we finally were able to catch back up with KP in the long awaited premiere of season 3. And while it did not pack the comedic punch some were expecting, the episode did exactly what each season opener had done before it: set the stage for our expectations to be shattered.
As the episode opens, we find Kenny has managed to find some level of mediocre success while we were away. His pitching game is back on point, and he is spending his off time from the Mertle Beach Mermen chasing skirts with his new best friend Shane (played by SNL funny man Jason Sudeikis). Shane’s entrance is a little less than hilarious, but his presence seems to validate Kenny’s new experience, and promises good things to come as the season plays out.
After spending some quality time with his disposable girlfriend, Kenny hops onto his french blue trike, and heads back to Shelby for the first birthday party of his nascent son, Toby. Unlike previous social engagements, where Kenny’s swagger is generally unflappable, there is nothing confident about his presence here. The lengths to which they go to display his uneasy transition to fatherhood approaches overboard, as we are forced to digest a healthy pile of aforementioned awkwardness without many laughs to help lube it up. I was glad to see it end.
Following a quick jet ski and body boarding montage, Kenny is ponying up to a relaxing bong in his beach side condo, when April shows up unexpectedly with young Toby entow. Kenny convinces April that she needs a night on the town, and calls in Shane for babysitting duty. What starts out as an innocent evening out eventually degrades to the type of drug fueled debauchery we have come to expect from ol’ KP. But something seems off. April is acting out of character as a willing participant, and even the aggressor at times.
Upon returning home, Shane makes yet another unfunny appearance, before leaving Kenny alone with April to close the deal. All goes well, until Kenny awakes in the morning with a prophylactic stuck to his face, only to find that April has gone AWOL, leaving young Toby behind in the care of his unequipped father. And that is where episode 1 ends. Yup. They went Dexter on us. Leaving us wondering how this lovable sociopath is going to handle the stresses of being a single dad.
Despite a lack of true gut buster moments, the laughs of the first episode were found in details, many of which were supplied by the prop department. Shane’s butterfly doors on his Dodge Ram, for example, had me in stitches. But overall, the episode lacked the combo action that good story writing and comedic detail typically provide in this series. Before I go and get too critical, I must mention that each of the previous 2 seasons had similar slow starts. A few funny moments set against a semi-serious backdrop used to construct our expectations. The same expectations that they’ll spend the rest of the season unpredictably destroying. So while some may contend that KP has lost his magic in his 3rd and final season, I am still cautiously optimistic for great things to come. Time will most certainly tell.