Kenny Powers

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

When “Eastbound & Down” aired its first episode in 2009, it seemed to be nothing more than a welcome vehicle for Danny McBride’s corrosive brand of humor. “Eastbound & Down” had more on its mind, though, eventually revealing itself as a sharp critique of the American Dream taken to its highest limits of excess, personified by McBride’s rambunctious, brazen performance as disgraced baseball star Kenny Powers.

For the first three seasons, Powers fought his way from a substitute teacher job back to the major leagues but left it all behind, faking his death to start a family with April (Katy Mixon). The fourth season picked up years later, with Powers a miserably anonymous family man. Then, at his darkest, he recklessly set fire to his entire life for a chance at his own TV show.

“Eastbound & Down” never shied from painting Powers as unlikable, but this final season has made him downright repulsive at times. As Powers was catapulted back into fame, all of his worst impulses ran rampant. It was hard to watch as he laid waste to his marriage and his career. Even the people around him spiraled; Stevie (Steve Little), Powers’ long-suffering sidekick and “Eastbound”’s favorite source of grotesque sight gags, blew off his obtrusive chin implants in a misguided Christmas suicide attempt.

Creators McBride and Jody Hill somehow kept the audience on Powers’ side, no matter how acidic his actions became. Beautifully staged moments of rebellion gave viewers something to cheer for, especially when Powers overcame his rival, racist talk show host Guy Young (Ken Marino), by stealing Young’s show out from under him.

Over the course of 29 episodes in season four, McBride honed his comedic persona and dug into what makes such a hopelessly abrasive character tick, and the result is one of HBO’s most distinct protagonists. Even when Powers’ heart is in the right place, he still manages to buy his kids a pet wolf as a gift, and McBride clearly relishes selling every ridiculous note.

“Eastbound & Down”’s series finale aired Sunday, and the show issued its final thesis statement as Powers walked away from fame and was reunited with his family in an unexpectedly happy ending. It also managed to work in some trademark “Eastbound” insanity as Powers imagined his own future in a “Six Feet Under”-style montage. It was an appropriately grandiose end to a self-appointed, grandiose character, and a remarkably offbeat ending to one of the funniest series HBO has ever broadcast.

“Eastbound & Down” functioned as character study, satire and gut-busting sitcom all at once. But the show’s biggest achievement was Powers, the ultimate embodiment of the curdled American Dream. Whatever McBride and Hill are cooking up next, one can only hope it’s as purposefully constructed as “Eastbound & Down,” and features at least one character as richly and relentlessly hilarious as Kenny Powers.

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

TV Tuesday

Burnt out on your favorite sports team? Can’t bear to watch the Longhorns or Cowboys anymore?

While you may have to wait for another run to a championship next season, this season there are still tons of great sports to watch. Yes, all of the excitement on the field is great, but so is the other sports entertainment on the small screen.

A handful of sports TV shows are scattered through the airwaves and becoming popular amongst viewers.

These shows are mostly aimed at the 18- to 30-year-old male viewership — the beer-drinking, butt-scratching, fist-pounding dudes that will shape the future of America. This audience brings similar themes in many of these shows including raunchy humor, attractive women and, surprisingly, not much in the way of sports.

Some of these shows are funny, and some are serious. Some are dirty, some really dirty and others are flat out grotesque. Some are popular, and some you may have never heard of. But believe it or not, they are all entertaining.

“Friday Night Lights”

This is the best show that nobody watches. “Friday Night Lights” gets amazing reviews, but it struggles to gain the audience it deserves.

Entering its fifth and final season, the show takes you to the small fictional town of Dillon, Texas, where high school football is life. It originally aired on NBC but after poor ratings was forced to move to DirecTV’s 101 Network in the beginning of its third season in 2008. After each season is completely aired on DirecTV, it is then rebroadcast months later on NBC’s Friday night lineup.

FNL, as many choose to call it, is pretty much “The O.C.” with a little bit of football. The show has a little of everything — cute girls and football. But seriously, there are love stories, humor, drama, controversial issues such as abortion and race and some of the best characters who you just love to love and love to hate.

And if all that isn’t enough, it’s got the Texas pride that we all know so well.

“Eastbound and Down”

Kenny Powers is the most ridiculous character on TV. He is the most self-centered, arrogant person that the small screen has ever seen.

Powers, played by Danny McBride, is a combination of John Rocker, Terrell Owens and Ron Artest. In other words, he is a jerk. But he sure does know how to put on a show.

“Eastbound and Down” tells Powers’ story of trying to get back into baseball. In this season, the HBO series, which of course means a lot of beloved obscenities and nudity, Powers finds his way back into the game, but in Mexico, which of course means constant racist jokes.

“The League”

“The League” is a show about five 30-something-year-old friends who compete in a fantasy football league. These immature drinking buddies will do whatever they can to reign supreme in “The League.”

In its second season on FX, the show features lots of slapstick jokes that we all love so much. “The League” is full of grown men, some with wives and children, acting like kids.
The show is a little random, and yes, it is stupid. But who cares? It’s fun, entertaining and relatable for many people who take part in fantasy football.

“Blue Mountain State”

It’s difficult to understand how Spike TV gets away with putting “Blue Mountain State” on basic cable.

It’s a frat party on steroids. Let’s just say that the opening credits show bras being unhooked, two girls making out and the butt crack of a giant offensive lineman sitting on the bench.

This is the show that makes older generations wonder what in the world is wrong with our generation. Its TV-MA rating is a little misleading, as you need to be pretty immature to actually watch this garbage.