One of the great things about Danny McBride is how he creates different iterations of his comic persona. McBride usually plays one form of white trash or another but The Foot Fist Way’s Fred Simmons is different than Kenny Powers, and way different than the characters in Your Highness and The Pineapple Express. All are delusional egotistical assholes, but each offer different dilemmas and delights. Kenny Powers – the main character of Eastbound and Down – was a superstar and he’s still got the swagger long after he lost his arm and his money, and even when he’s hiding out in Mexico. It’s a different sort of delusion than his other characters: Kenny’s someone desperately clinging to the time when they were still hot shit, while the majority of his other characters never hit those heights, and it makes all of the difference in the world. Our review of the season one and season two Blu-rays of Eastbound and Down follow after the jump.
From writers Ben Best, McBride, Jody Hill, and Shawn Harwell, and directors Hill, David Gordon Green and (for one episode) Adam McKay you get one of McBride’s best turns on Southern redneck hubris. Kenny had a breakout strikeout, and hit the majors big, winning multi-million dollar contracts. But Kenny is a racist asshole, and his road to the bottom hit all the rungs, and though he knows it, he feels he can never let it show. After the series’ prologue, Kenny becomes a substitute teacher, haunted by people who remember when he used to be a big deal.
Returning to the town he grew up in, he gets work with his old flame April (Katy Mixon) and her fiancée/the principal Terrence Cutter (Andrew Daly) as a gym coach. Also at school is Stevie Janowski (Steve Little), who becomes Kenny’s #1 sycophant/enabler. Kenny takes the full time job, but he has illusions of going back to the majors. He lives with his brother Dustin (John Hawkes) and his “Church bitch” wife Cassie (Jennifer Irwin). Eventually he gets his pitch back, but where that leads is not as great as he thought.
In the second season, Kenny goes to Mexico, where he hangs with some toughs (including Deep Roy as a coked out something or other) and has been seeing bar singer Vida (Ana de la Regura) occasionally as he tries to hide from himself. He can’t help going to Mexican baseball games though, and eventually the coach Roger Hernandez (Marco Rodríguez) asks him to join the team. Kenny is still haunted by his failings with April, but when Stevie shows up to be his assistant, he finds himself pitching again and on the hunt for Eduardo Sanchez (Don Johnson), his long lost father. But redemption comes again for Kenny when Pat Anderson (Adam Scott) tries to make good on his failings, and gets a scout (Matthew McConaughey) to get him an offer to go back to the states, albeit in the minor leagues.
The show follows him hitting rock bottom, and the second season shows how much further he could sink. And – if you can laugh at hubris mixed with pain – it’s hilarious, his delusions and dialog are uproarious, and the supporting casts in both seasons knock it out of the park. For the first couple episodes of both seasons it’s about watching Kenny get all the way down. But then there’s some actual hope and redemption toward the end –if it sticks is unknown. But this is about watching an anti-hero work through his failure, but being too oblivious to always realize how bad he’s made his own situation.
There is so much funny here, but the show gets dark like a lot of modern black comedy television, and the second season takes him down as far as he can go. Watching it week by week, the middle acts felt like take Powers lower and lower, but now collected as a whole – even with the second season cliffhanger – it feels more audience friendly in its way. The creators conceived it as a long movie, and now with the Blu-rays you can watch it that way. And in that they created a masterpiece. Kenny Powers is one of the great characters, and there are so many great moments, of late, I find myself laughing at “Tits Grande” and Katy Mixon’s response to it. I wonder if the writers set up the whole first episode “I didn’t just come in my pants” to pay off, or if they saw it coming (no pun intended), or if it was a happy accident. If you like watching people who have egos oversizing their actual gifts, there are few greater shows.
The first season is perfect, and the second feels like a bridge. The second season is great in that it makes one of Kenny’s arcs to see if he’s a breast man or ass man, and if he can handle Vida, her son and settled life (which she brushes off as much as she can). If the first series was a revelation, and showcased what Jody Hill and company could do with television, the second season is no less excellent, but taken as a whole doesn’t have the arresting power of discovery. It’s fun to see where they take these characters, and every episode has its moments, from a great cold open with Adam Scott and Hill in rehab to McConaughey’s gay scout, there’s lot of great bits and jokes.
And the second season does great things with Stevie’s character, having him find love and the consequences of it. I love both seasons, though by the nature of the conclusion of the second it’s about setting up where it will likely end. Hill has talked about wanting to only go three seasons, and it will be great to see how the show closes out, but it also gives the second season the pleasures and pains that come from a middle chapter. Where should Kenny Powers end up? Back famous or dead from autoerotic asphyxiation? Season three is in the works, so we will eventually know, but as a middle chapter, Season Two will be made or broke by how it all ties up. Such are middle chapters.
HBO presents the show on Blu-ray in widescreen (1.78:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD surround. The transfer is excellent, as to be expected, with the first season shot on Super 16mm, and the second on 35mm. Extras on the first season include three commentaries for the six episodes, with David Gordon Green, Ben Best, Danny McBride and Jody Hill on episodes one, four and six. Featurettes are kept to the second disc. There’s a making of (12 min.), and a Greatest Hits for Kenny Powers (3 min.) from his promo video, two Ashley Schaeffer commercials (3 min.), Deleted scenes (9 min.), and outtakes (13min.), along with Stevie’s Dark Secret (8 min.) which gives Steve Little a chance to go wild.
Season 2 extras on the first disc include five commentaries, the first on the first episode with Jody Hill and Danny McBride, the second on the fourth episode with Hill, McBride, and Steve Little. On disc 2, there are commentaries on every episode, with David Gordon Green and sound mixer Chris Gebert on the fifth and sixth episodes, and McBride, Hill, and Little on the last. Solid, but uneventful commentaries. Disc 2 also holds the non-commentary supplements. “Invitation to the Set” (8 min.) is a fairly standard “welcome back” to explain the season, and talks to the main cast and crew. “Big Red Cockfighting” (4 min.) explains the cockfighting elements of the show, and then there’s a montage of deleted scenes (16 min.), and finally outtakes (12 min.). Though there’s no new supplements for those upgrading the first season, the picture quality upgrade is noticeable.