[7 August 2011]
After a much-bragged about deal to return to the majors falls through at the end of the first season, pitching flamethrower Kenny Powers has to leave the only two things he cares about – his newly-won girlfriend April and his jetski – to save face, speeding off to Mexico with his defeated tail between his legs. There we find him walking the fine line between Spring Break antics and depressive hedonism as the leader of a cockfighting outfit and a drug-fueled miscreant. It takes the defeat of Kenny’s prized cock, the arrival of the perpetually faithful sidekick Stevie, and a hometown baseball team in need of a spark for Kenny to forsake his romanticized image of life as a Mexican outlaw and get back on track towards redemption with April, baseball, and himself.
Eastbound and Down, the vessel created for Danny McBride’s freshly outlandish character Kenny Powers, alternates between soulful and salty—to a fault. Much of the appeal of the show rides on Kenny saying terrible things and acting like a massive, goateed infant, but this over-the-top shock is compromised as his character grows. Instead, the shock resides in the viewer, as they realize they aren’t laughing at Kenny’s tirades because they’re the savage backfire of a tragic figure in the flat spin of an identity crisis.
This increased complexity of Kenny Powers doesn’t entirely forsake the genre of the show. In fact, two of the season’s most dramatic narrative elements are also the funniest. Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) joins the cast halfway through the season as a perfect casting of Kenny’s father, “Eduardo Sanchez” Powers. It turns out that Kenny and Eduardo are more alike than either expects, as both father and son comically lie and manipulate their relationship into the ground.
The other cornerstone to the season is the voice-over narration of Kenny recording a part memoir, part self-help, and entirely stream-of-consciousness audio book. Through it, Kenny delivers equal parts introspection and faux introspection in the form of crass, loosely-fitting morals and advice to retroactively justify his actions.
The new Kenny in his new setting still deliver plenty of blue comedy, but his Southern-fried bluntness wears out a couple of overused situations. The season leans heavily on Kenny delivering horribly demeaning, Spanglish-laden pep talks to his Mexican baseball team, and it is hard to suspend disbelief when every person Kenny verbally assaults and colorfully insults just moves on in the conversation like they tuned out for his reply. Yet some manifestations of Kenny’s massive ego never get old, such as the incredibly excessive entrances for the unenthusiastic baseball attendees, or his tactless overreactions to the most minor of affronts.
This two-disk DVD set includes the entirety of the standard-length HBO comedy season – seven 30-minute episodes – as well as a decent amount of DVD features. An included and overdue addition to the TV on DVD repertoire is the previous season recap, as well as the preview spots for each episode. This installment also includes two short behind-the-scenes featurettes, one with general interviews, and one about how they filmed the cockfighting without harming the animals. The real reasons for a fan to purchase this collection, however, are the outtakes and deleted scenes. The actors do a lot of ad-libbing, so a lot of the outtakes are more than just line-stumbling, and the deleted scenes are both funny and worthy supplement to the canon.
It’s a fun romp through Mexico in search of the ambiguous, elusive, and at times, arbitrary finish line of confidence and self-understanding, but like the show itself, the DVD set could only possibly appeal to the smallest of niche audiences. The second season simply doesn’t have enough laughs for anyone but a serious fan or DVD collector, though it could be worth revisiting if the third season wraps up the story of Kenny Powers nicely. For the future of our favorite foul-mouthed flamethrower, let’s hope it does.