"When I think of a Mexican, I'll think of you. When you see this jackass, think of me."
I love it when a protagonist and hero are a bit on the loose side, maybe tending toward darkness and unlike-ability. The anti-hero is a fascinating concept to me, especially when done right. Eastbound and Down does this right, and pushes it so far that the anti-hero sensibilities are legitimately distasteful, to the point where we're following somewhat of a villain. We follow an asshole who treats his journey like redemption is found around every corner, and he's always changing for the better, despite the fact that he is only constantly digging deeper holes. Not only is it a creative and interesting character practice, but it's an absolutely classic comedy with so many brilliant minds at hand. From directors Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, and Adam McKay to pretty much everyone on the cast, specifically Steve Little and our lead-man and co-writer/creator Danny McBride, the show has a cavalcade of hilarious geniuses carrying it, confidently so, with splashes of fun and style. Season one set up one hell of a protagonist, and brought him through quite a lot, but season two really gets into personal nitty gritty. It does this with care and smart turns in messing with it's comedy and storytelling, only improving on an already impressively told tale. More sadness, more laughs, the second season of Eastbound and Down is a worthy second act of a three act epic.
If anything, Kenny Powers is more of a celebrity than a true athlete. In season one, after falling from a surprising amount of grace, the asshole relief pitcher that was once loved was forced to reach true rock-bottom; teaching PE at a local middle school, back home with family and friends, AKA, everyone that Kenny hates. His brother (played by a trusty John Hawkes) and his family love Kenny, but want him to... Get on his feet, and get the hell out. Several crappy days are spent, with Kenny being put in his pathetic place by even bigger assholes, like Ashley Schaffer (an unhinged Will Ferrell.) Along the way, he makes friends, specifically in Stevie Janowski (Steve Little), one of the creepiest sidekicks ever written and acted. As well as tries to mend relationships, in the lost love that is April Buchanon (Katy Mixon.)
The road to redemption is rocky, with Kenny not really being the wisest on how big of an idiot and asshole he is, but eventually, thanks to some God forsaken miracle, and resulting in a severed eye-ball, he gains his pitch back with the help of his friends, and gains a chance at the big leagues. This chance, he takes a bit too seriously, dropping pounds of cash on a car, new house, etc. This is his chance to get back on top, and he knows it. What he doesn't know, and learns right as he steps out of the door for his new future, is that the scout that promised him a spot back on his throne was actually high on multiple drugs and wasn't allowed to hire just anyone he desired- it was all bull shit. Kenny, being the prideful son of a bitch he is, acts like everything is A-OK. He even brings a won-over April, who is willing to look past the man's flaws, without knowing the one currently being showcased. Then, Kenny being Kenny and doing things without really thinking, he leaves April at a gas station, driving off to God knows where, away from his home, in shame.
Season two finds a broken Kenny Powers as a champion cockfight deep inside Mexico, under the alias Steve. He also uses credit cards with the name Steve on them. He has somewhat of a new life now, living alone above a happy Mexican family (fathered by one Aegean Ramirez), working with two new sidekicks, found in a silver-tongued Indian dwarf and mute, chubby Mexican man, and he now has a new love interest in Vida, a Bob Seeger cover-singer of a bar band (Ana de la Reguera.) He's living in the land of outlaws- a place where the decrepit and lowly hide from the normalities of society. Kenny feels out of place there and as if he just can't go back.
It isn't until the coach (Marco Rodríguez) local baseball team, the Charros, spots Kenny in the audience of one of his losing baseball games that things truly look up for Kenny. The coach, Roger, offers a spot on the team to Kenny, who declines, once again, due to pride. After turning it down, Kenny subsequently loses his prize cock in a fight, as well as both his sidekicks. He is abandoned. With nowhere to go, Kenny turns to the Charros, in hopes of making enough noise to capture the attention of American baseball scouts. Whilst there, he tries to develop his relationship with Vida, befriend the Charros' owner, and discover a mysterious man named Eduardo Sanchez, who may have the answers to every singe one of Kenny's questions. Oh, and Stevie hunts Kenny down by doing every hooker Kenny has done. Some detective work, right? (Right.)
If you don't know by now, Eastbound and Down functions like a British television series. The seasons run a whole story-arc over at least 6 or 7 episodes, which play in chronological order. If you were to edit out the credits and titles, each season would work as one big movie. As far as sequels would go, season two works well, especially as the second part of a three part epic. It takes into the account the ideal of act two of a tale being the demise and rise of our hero. Like an idiotic Odyssey, still maintaining the smart professions and trappings of any good story, season two sports a much more tragic and sad tone to it, but in the way it's protagonist would feel these emotions. He's not in a happy place, but is still an asshole about it, which is quite hilarious but handled poignantly. This leads to even more hilarity in amazing tonal juxtaposition, and just purely impressive storytelling, with dashing expectations, all while fulfilling what you NEED for these characters, which isn't always what one would want. It's a fitting position in similar vein to the already ballsy attitude the writers and directors rock.
Just an aside, I have to praise the comedic mastermind that is Steve Little. The character of Stevie is so ridiculous and crazy in writing and execution. Steve Little is a talent that goes underrated, because of the absurdity he can sport, as well as the absolute truth in performance he can exert, whilst still in character. He isn't really a deep character, but that doesn't stop the man from going full-on. The farthest we go is when he falls in love, which is a good character stretch, but then there's his relationship with Kenny. He has this care from him, which in many ways, is the most pathetic thing put to screen and known to man. It reaches scary places, too, with Stevie wondering things about Kenny and wanting to be like him in ways that people just should not want to and wonder about a person. He's an adorable sociopath, that's for sure, and Little works his absurdity to excellent extremes. He wields his quirky weirdness like a professional, and leads toward mentally incomprehensible lengths via shell-shocking improvisation that will have you splitting your sides because of how insane and stupid he comes off as. Almost literally everything the man says is golden, and the doofy little personality that is Stevie Janowski is as much the perfect sidekick as is he is one of the dumbest, funniest characters to be witnessed in a comedy. And even so, he doesn't overstep his place in the dramatic moments, which makes his presence in the humorous ones more cherishable. The relationship between the two is one of the most enjoyable things about this show, and both sides definitely hold up their sides of the bargain.
It's a weird balance that the actors, writers, and directors strike, mixing the sheer genius, oft mental improvisation-insanity, as well as off-kilter, a little more subtle humor. Hill and Green are known for this kind of comedic voice, specifically with a pinch of darkness spliced in, and they bring it HARD this season. Actions taken and seen are executed and captured in a quick and observant fashion, giving visual gaggery of many types a voice that is normally not heard/witnessed in many comedies. Conversations had are of some of the most non-sequitorially inane contexts, delivered by a cavalcade of talented comic minds. The humor expelled is strong and enjoyable to watch 100% of the time, in this low brow high brow way- smart, irreverent stupidity. It is of relentless voice, often touching touchy subjects and not really giving a damn about anything. That just shines through perfectly with the main character and his world, though, and if you're on board with the joke that is his journey, then you should be satisfied. If not, it still makes for good belly-laughs, though sometimes context of time and character position is necessary. In this case, the story is a bit more serious, maybe churning out not as ridiculous results as last season, but still sufficient and working humor, and it's still some of the funniest stuff to come out of TV in the past few years. The men behind this show are only getting funnier, be it on or behind the camera- their work is masterful in their own special way.
But as comedic as it can be, the show actually has merit and strength to its development of plot and characters. And when it's time for that stuff, things can get serious. Hill and Green keep that voice true and always check the levels of absurdity and naturalism, dramatic and comedic, dark and sympathetic. They understand the heft and tonal origin for each scene, what must be communicated or said, as well as how, and don't take that for granted. The characters and their journeys are beloved, and expertly controlled almost always, not to mention that it's admirable for the sake of it's own worth and fillings. Sometimes I with they'd just pushed and stretched for more and more, but what we end up with is perfect for the character and how he feels in these moments of dire importance. He's somewhat of an ignorant asshole, some might say, and he treats many situations as so, leading to often unfulfilled (entirely) situations. Which is upsetting in a perfect kind of way. That's more or less what this series goes for- tragic realism of this tragic character, portrayed in the ironically cool and heroic speed he'd imagine his redemption going if he had his way. He totally doesn't. And it's great.
There's a well-maintained energy and spirit to the style, filled with colorful montages, music, and cinematography that keeps things exciting. Jody Hill and David Gordon Green are known for their quick and flashy hand in visual handling, as well as being music snobs, always utilizing the best fitting tunes for each and every appropriate scene. This story, a lot of the time, takes the pace that Kenny likes to imagine he is working at, which is bad-ass and fast. Of course, he isn’t bad-ass OR fast, so often, Green and Hill like to cover Powers’ mundane patheticness with high-octane filmmaking, as well as the moments of his lame attempts to be cool, and side-shows of disturbing downfall. This kind of attention to attitude leads to very dark and very hilarious moments, especially thanks to letting Danny take Kenny to the most laughable of degrees. It’s pretty and poignant, with purpose, and I absolutely love that the guys behind this show don’t only try and make a comedy. That, or they make what’s normally a standard comedy some much cooler and impressive.
Because the show likes to try for something special, it is considered in many sects, practically all, to not be as out-right hilarious as the first season. I think that’s a given, because in any good three-act-structure, the second is the appropriate time to break down the character. This is exactly what the Rough House gang does with Kenny Powers, and it’s kind of rough to watch, a lot of the time. It doesn’t mean that they don’t keep the comedy as high-quality as possible, which they go for every step of the way, but it’s just right up against character development, which may feel out of place for what many expect to be a cuss-driven comedy. It most definitely is that, but it’s also so much more, which is a funny concept in its own right. I think season two of Eastbound and Down definitely improved and did justice to its protagonist by confronting his emotions in a relentless fashion. From its brilliant direction, and usage of music and style, along with Danny McBride’s impressive holding of character weight beside Steve Little, to the downright genius writing from a comedic and dramatic perspective, season two was an obvious improvement and step up. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for Kenny Powers’ final chapter, but it can be assured that there will be good laughs and good closure. It’s that combo that makes this series one of the best out there- an absolute classic.
...Oh, uh, 5/5.
And here is a song used near the conclusion of the season that has me in tears every time.