Danny McBride

Danny McBride stars as Kenny Powers in HBO's "Eastbound and Down," which airs on HBO Sundays at 9 p.m. (Courtesy of HBO)

The work of “Eastbound & Down” creator Jody Hill definitely has thematic consistency, always focusing on a repulsively crass and arrogant man whose only response to losing control of his life is to dig himself a deeper hole so that rock bottom will be all the more crippling when it comes.

From his debut film “The Foot Fist Way” to 2009’s underrated “Observe and Report,” Hill has taken joy in creating reprehensible yet sort of likable figures. Kenny Powers in Hill’s television show “Eastbound & Down” is the ultimate realization of this formula, a through-and-through bastard you can’t stop watching, if only to see what low he’s going to sink to next.

“Eastbound & Down” returned for its third (and reportedly final) season on HBO last night with a premiere that only hints at the lunacy to come. Kenny (Danny McBride), a former Major League pitcher now playing for the Myrtle Beach Mermen, truly believes he’s on his way to reclaiming his former glory. However, last night’s return of ex-girlfriend April Buchanan (Katy Mixon) introduced a wild card into Kenny’s life after she made one of the worst parenting decisions in recorded history and left her one-year-old, Toby, in his father’s care.

Last night’s episode introduced a few new players into the series with more to come. The most notable of these new additions is Jason Sudeikis as Kenny’s equally foul best friend. Sudeikis appears to be having a blast being able to cut loose and competing with McBride to see who can come up with the most depraved punchline. However, even more laughs come from Kenny’s new responsibilities as a father.

Rather than playing this as a story of a man growing up and learning how to raise a son, “Eastbound & Down” would rather show us an extremely lucky man who can somehow stuff a baby into a backpack with a head of lettuce (so it’ll eat healthy) and ride around on a moped without causing irreparable damage to the poor kid. Toby appears to be in real danger every minute he spends with Kenny and it adds a hilarious edge to the proceedings to know that a baby is in peril in the background of every scene.

However, next week’s episode focuses less on the hilarity of Kenny’s new surroundings and more on showing the audience just how deranged McBride and Hill are willing to go with Kenny Powers and “Eastbound & Down.” Lots of old faces return, including the sorely missed Stevie Janowski (Steve Little), Kenny’s best friend who’s about as capable as his infant son. Also returning is Will Ferrell as the terrifying Ashley Schaeffer, a local car salesman who delights in tormenting Steve and taunting Kenny. When Ferrell comes onscreen, the episode takes a truly bizarre turn. Things happen that are baffling in their oddity yet side-splitting in their hilarity. It’s a true showcase for the uncontrolled lunacy that Jody Hill is capable of.

Hill’s characters aren’t just tragically flawed men, they’re also dangerously competent. In “Observe and Report,” when Seth Rogen’s bipolar mall cop springs into action, it has uniformly bloody results, and there’s no denying that behind all of the hemming and hawing, Kenny can throw the hell out of a baseball. That knowledge that these men are so arrogant because they’re so good at what they do is what adds a true danger and unpredictability to Hill’s work.

However, Kenny wouldn’t be half as compelling if McBride didn’t do such a great job playing him. McBride has fully committed to making Kenny a scumbag of a man who thinks he’s a hero and role model and makes Kenny’s delusions equally hilarious and depressing. Without McBride, Kenn is not such an iconic character and “Eastbound & Down” isn’t such a singular, uproarious show.

Instead, we have seven more episodes before the “Eastbound & Down” saga wraps up and we say goodbye to Kenny, so enjoy the off-the-rails madness for as long as you can.

Printed on Monday, February 20, 2012 as: Hilarity ensures on HBO series

David Gordon Green’s recent reinvention of his career has been nothing short of fascinating to watch. After creating a name for himself making glacially paced, poetically written indies such as “Snow Angels” and “All the Real Girls,” Green did a complete 180 and began making uproarious stoner comedies such as 2008’s “Pineapple Express” and now the absolutely ridiculous and hysterical “Your Highness.”

Things start off with Thadeous (Danny McBride) about to be executed by a kingdom of midgets and the film only gets sillier from there when he is forced to accompany his brother Fabious (James Franco) on a quest to save Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), Fabious’ fiancee who has been captured by the nefarious Leezar (Justin Theroux). Unbeknownst to the brothers, Leezar plans to use Belladonna to fulfill an especially invasive prophecy. As they quest to rescue her, they encounter a perverted wizard, a randy Minotaur and the deadly Isabel (Natalie Portman).

Obviously, a film like this lives and dies on the quality of its jokes. On this front, “Your Highness” has more hits than misses, continuing the “Pineapple Express” method of blending stoner humor, creative cursing and over-the-top violence for laughs. This is a film that may sound like it was written by a 13-year-old, but in the best way possible. It’s raunchy, unapologetic and seems endlessly entertained with itself. Even when the occasional joke flops, there are several far funnier quips quickly following it.

Most of this is thanks to the comedic persona of McBride. After making his film debut in Green’s “All the Real Girls,” McBride has been slowly honing the character he’s best known for: the cocky failure whose ego is matched only by his blissful lack of self-awareness. Coming off of another hilarious season of “Eastbound & Down,” McBride slaps on a preposterous British accent and lends every scene his trademark comedic stylings. If audiences have grown tired of McBride’s schtick, “Your Highness” may be a bit of a chore, but fans will find plenty to laugh at here.

The rest of the cast refuses to let McBride dominate the spotlight, however. Franco’s Fabious is energetic and naive, employing Franco’s goofy smile and natural comedic timing to great effect. Theroux’s detestable wizard almost steals the show, but is segregated from the rest of the cast for most of the film, asked instead to play off of Deschanel’s straight man. When Deschanel is asked to interact with the rest of the cast, she displays an uncharacteristic comedic flair, but mostly flounders in the film’s later scenes, where she’s only asked to look scared and make out with Franco. Portman, on the other hand, is great, taking the filthy, playful persona she brought to “No Strings Attached,” cranking it up, and running with the film’s often ridiculous material. It helps that Portman is given a few action scenes where she proves to be surprisingly badass.

As for director Green, he adapts well to the medieval genre — miles away from the Midwestern, poetic locations where he began making films. Green also displays an adept eye for action sequences, and manages to compose several of the epic landscape shots that defined films such as “Lord of the Rings.”

“Your Highness” is a film that almost defies the rules of logic. A big-budget stoner comedy starring a recent Oscar winner and another nominee that manages to make McBride something of an action hero. By all laws of common sense, this shouldn’t exist. And yet, here it is, in all its shamelessly dirty, hilarious glory, and this weekend, moviegoers will be all the better for it.