Eastbound and Down – Season 2
Given that HBO makes some of the more engaging and finely crafted dramatic television in evidence today, it’s hardly a surprise that they would want to have a little fun once in a while. The result of this desire to let loose is Eastbound & Down, now in its excellent second season.
The story continues to follow the indomitable yet unbearable Kenny Powers (Danny McBride), a once big-league baseball pitcher whose swift fall from grace is documented briefly in the very first minutes of the first season. Kenny’s career crashed mullet-first in a fireball of expertly delivered crude dialogue, to a point where not even local teams could bear his diminishing skill and raging abrasiveness, perhaps something best exemplified in a quote from the man himself. “When my ass was 19 years old, I changed the face of professional baseball. I was handed the keys to the kingdom, multi-million dollar deals, endorsements. Everyone wanted a piece of my shit. Just a man with a mind for victory and an arm like a fucking cannon. But sometimes when you bring the thunder, you get lost in the storm,” he rages.
Now we find Kenny once again amid another self inflicted stormy metaphor. He’s taken refuge in an unnamed town in Mexico, keen to live a simpler life with some suitably hilarious cornrows adorning his head. The luxurious hired car in which he escaped America sits idly outside of his meager apartment, covered in months of dust and completely immobile. He goes by the pseudonym of Steve, and scratches out an existence as a hustler and cock-fighting impresario. Kenny also boasts a pair of amusing sidekicks, one of whom, Aaron, is played by 4'4" Gordeep Roy (of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Aaron helps Kenny enforce what little sway he has in the criminal underworld, wearing a tiny leather waistcoat and stick on pencil moustache to compliment his slick pony-tail. The oft harsh exchanges between Kenny and Aaron make for some excellent dialogue on the opening episodes and serve as a great reminder of what a well-rounded character (and asshole) Kenny can be.
But the allure of baseball is too much for Kenny ‘F*%$ing’ Powers to resist, and he often rides his ramshackle scooter to watch the local team lose every game they play. Naturally the coach of the local team recognizes Powers and approaches him after a game in an attempt to coax him back to the sport. Though initially reluctant, Kenny’s ego loves nothing more than an extensive massage and after a degree of wrangling he agrees to return to the sport he claims not to adore, his prerequisites including fireworks, dancing girls and 30 foot tall banners displaying himself. All of which serves only to confuse the sparse and uninterested Mexican crowd.
Kenny’s tirades of shocking and bigoted sexual references once again punctuate each episode and those around him serve as collective fall guys for his outbursts. I defy you not to cringe when you see Kenny sit with his friendly neighbors and their children while discussing his sexual encounter with new girlfriend Vida, played by Ana De La Reguera. The best part about these uncomfortable moments is that it’s glaringly obvious that McBride has a strong input in what is said and testament to the fact that the role just wouldn’t work with anybody else.
It’s hard to pick fault here, but I certainly feel that the show could do without as much over-the-top ridiculousness and often more than mild racism from Stevie (Steve Little), Kenny’s unyielding lapdog from the first season who caught up with his master in Mexico. This aside, HBO is once again displaying its patented slick production values, a penchant for excellent music and amusing character development all to great effect. It also remains Danny McBride’s most nuanced and fully-realized role to date, evolving from the far from perfect yet similar roles in The Foot Fist Way and Tropic Thunder. It’s impossible to imagine anybody else deliver what should be a truly poignant speech with such an awkward staccato style, yielding oddly hilarious car-crash results.