September 30, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Eastbound & Down”



EASTBOUND & DOWN is an acquired taste that, to be honest, I’ve never quite acquired.  Not that the show hasn’t made me laugh, not that I fail to recognize the glory that unbridled Danny McBride can be and the show’s terrific supporting cast and guest stars–but a relatively low amount of full-bore former major league pitcher Kenny Powers, with his rampaging, unstoppable id, his roaring ego (and barely-hidden insecurity), his political incorrectness set on “kill” and his omnivorous hunger for all things narcotic, alcoholic and generally unhealthy, goes very far for me.  And that may well be true of McBride and his co-series creator Jody Hill (with Ben Best) as well, since they tried to walk away from the series after Seasons 2 and 3, only to be told by HBO that no, they weren’t done yet.

The current, and presumptively final, Season 4 presented us in its premiere with the most subdued Kenny Powers we’re ever likely to see.  Kenny had faked his own death at the end of Season 3, and now several years have passed.  He’s living in soul-killing suburbia, in a household ruled by the love of his life, his real-estate agent now-wife April (Katy Mixon), driving a pick-up that’s been stripped of its macho detail-work, working as a car rental clerk (and forced by his obnoxious boss to take photos with those customers who remember his baseball career), unable even to get a bank loan for a backyard pool.  He is, as he’d be the first to say, castrated.  He takes petty revenge by breaking lamps in the house, crushing the donuts his boss brings into the office, and boycotting the reception after April is honored as realtor of the month (only in her area, he notes, and only in her office).  Obviously neither Kenny nor Eastbound can stand to have him that way for long, and by the end of the season premiere, written by McBride, Hill and Hayes Davenport, and directed by Hill, the old Kenny is starting to poke through like a meth cook peering out of the eyes of a high-school science teacher.  The return of the real Kenny Powers begins with a racist dinner-table joke about the adopted Asian child of family friends, builds during a night spent with some fellow ex-athletes who are richer and more successful than he is, and explodes with a drag race, a raid on the drugs kept hidden deep in his garage and a grand resignation from the car rental company.

All this was set-up to what Season 4 will actually be, which presumably we’ll find out next week.  It was an interesting half-hour because the plot required McBride to keep himself as reined-in as he could bear, and although it was hard to comprehend how Kenny could be tamed for even a full day, much less years, McBride did a good job with the notion of a mild-mannered Kenny Powers.  Ken Marino did his glad-handling slimebag thing as one of Kenny’s old pals (his showpiece was a speech before an AIDS charity that was heavy on lesion jokes), and Katy Mixon, as ever, was willing to play the woman with her hand on the knife removing Kenny’s testicles.

Eastbound has never been a breakout hit for HBO, but the show generates a fair amount of niche buzz and probably draws more of a young male audience than the network’s Newsroom/Boardwalk Empire fare (let alone Girls).  The series deserves to go out, Kenny-style, on its own balls-to-the-wall terms, and that’s the exit it should get this season.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."