Blu-Ray Review: Eastbound & Down (Season 4)
In the vein of TV shows such as Californication and others, featuring a man-child seeking the love of one good woman, Season 4 of HBO’s Eastbound and Down faced an extremely formidable opponent, and won. Since Season 1, former professional baseball pitcher Kenny Powers, (a curly-mulleted David Wells type, played by Danny McBride) has sought the affections of April Buchanon, though she was recurring for Seasons 2 and 3, (actress Katy Mixon works around her Mike & Molly schedule). Then, at the end of a madcap Season 3, (for which the highlights are featured on this package, although Season 4 functions well as a standalone), the oft-unlikeable Kenny Powers landed the girl of dreams, and they rode off together into the sunset, (the term “after the sunset” also mentioned on the commentary track). Now, Kenny Powers must apply himself to his new role as doting husband, father of two, and wage slave. It is not exactly a huge surprise that Powers is unhappy in his new role. For a show that usually involved Kenny Powers chasing the impossible (girl of his) dream(s), what is left when the dream becomes a reality?
Well, it is clear that Kenny Powers wants to live his life on Kenny Powers’ terms. And this involves being central in the limelight. The key to his resurgence is a chance meeting with former teammate with the rather strange name of Guy Young, (comedic MVP Ken Marino), who hosts popular local program Sports Sesh, (a louder, more aggro Around the Horn or Pardon the Interruption). Kenny performs quite poorly in his initial performance on the Sports Sesh, though he somehow convinces Guy to have him on a second time, leading to an unusual montage of Kenny practicing how to be a good guest host, including the proper way to sit while swinging his legs. Along for the ride is Kenny’s perpetual lackey Stevie (Steve Little), who seems to exist solely to have Kenny make offhand suggestions as to how to improve his life, and Stevie taking them to bizarre extremes. One of these ideas is Kenny telling Stevie to dress better, which leads Stevie to appear in increasingly inappropriate sartorial styles, including many varieties of colorful fedoras. One can imagine what happens when Powers says that Stevie has a weak chin.
Stevie initially appears ingratiating, but there is something about his extreme sycophantism that makes for extremely cringe-worthy laughter. Kenny Powers is often “above the joke”, but Stevie is funnier the more ridiculous he becomes. An example of this brand of humour is when Stevie disappoints Kenny, and he responds by punching the windshield of the car. Stevie screams and writhes in pain creating uncomfortable giggles in the audience, that we almost, feel guilty but not quite, about causing further pain. The show then eases this pain by showing Stevie wearing bandages over his mangled hand, though increasingly smaller and smaller as the season progresses, taking the joke its extreme.
In contrast, there is a lack of continuity in selections from Season 4 that part of Kenny Powers’s radical transformation. Many gags are tossed aside, or not brought to a full conclusion. Kenny decides to open his own restaurant as a brand extension, which, quite hilariously, is in a kiosk in the mall. TnT, which stands for Taters n’ Tits, had loads of potential, but never really seems to reach its comedy apex, (aside from Kenny and Stevie repeatedly saying “feexens” to describe what goes on the taters). Another bit that could have gone so much further is Kenny trying to compete with Guy Young and his AIDS charity, (leading to a lot of obvious, but not unfunny puns), and opening the Kenny Powers Memorial Baseball Field, (think about it), for underprivileged children in the community, (and the show makes no bones about which kind of children, with cracks about drank and Skittles). Again, this idea is a bit daring at first, but never seems to take off and go anywhere. A final idea that is abandoned, but reappears at a crucial time is Kenny is writing his own memoir, The Kenny Powers Saga, which allows for moments of self-reflection and meta-textuality, (and the show juuuuust pulls this trick off in the last episode).
This last chapter features perhaps the biggest name in comedy as the head of the network, strangely underplaying his role, (he does not have any extremely Nice! gags). This final episode, is a must-see, though, as the last ten minutes features some of the most interesting “after the after the sunset” ideas, and is somewhat reminiscent of HBO show Six Feet Under. Also, the actors playing Kenny’s grown children, in non-speaking roles, have to be seen to be believed, and the Queen song “Who Wants to Live Forever” is used to great effect. An earlier episode features Brian Warner in a throwaway part as a waiter. Look up Brian Warner though, and see which persona for which he is better known, and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role, (sans make-up) is truly astonishing. Other season 4 highlights include comedians Tim Heidecker and Jillian Bell as Kenny’s extremely boring neighbours, Gene and Dixie. Dixie’s annoyance provides a surprising foil to Powers, and the fact that, in an unspoken running gag, Heidecker appears in a different Wake Forest-branded piece of clothing in this North Carolina-set show is funny as anything.
Eastbound and Down’s greatest strength is perhaps also its greatest liability, that the show is extremely self-contained, (as is the whole season, which demands to be binge-watched). Every episode is directed by either Jody Hill or David Gordon Green, and features McBride in almost every scene, (McBride co-writes every episode, along with Hill or Ben Best). The Eastbound and Down Season 4 Blu-Ray demands a look, though, if only for the self-reflexive final chapter. The usual bells and whistles like Outtakes, (which is given a crude title), Deleted Scenes, and Commentary provide mild thrills, but the oft improvised jokes fly by fast and furious, and the show looks great on Blu-Ray. Get Down with your bad self.
Eastbound and Down is available on Blu-Ray Tuesday, May 13th.