The Definition of Surreal: “Eastbound and Down”

I’ve dedicated 95% of my posts to film. I did a slight deviation by posting my review of Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” pilot episode and also posting my thoughts on HBO’s “In Treatment” – which I still stand by when I say that it’s the finest television program I have ever seen, surpassing my benchmarks of Sorkin’s “The West Wing” and Michael Mann’s “Crime Story”.

It’s not that I’ve turned my nose up at television, but I guess in a way I have. I think that 90% of television shows are bullshit. Most of them are awful. ABC’s “Modern Family” is one show I am loyal too (aside from HBO programming), but it’s follow up show of “Cougar Town” is by far one of the worst pieces of shit I have ever seen. I feel extremely humiliated and degraded while watching that fucking show. It disgusts me.

Anywho – I feel that certain stories are too big for film. I’m a fan of epics, I love “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Apocalypse Now” and “How the West Was Won” but certain stories can really only be told through the medium of television. HBO’s “In Treatment” is one of the most epic things I have ever seen, and it would not work as a four hour film, because the structure of the show is made for television.

A major complaint I have with television shows is that they always deviate away from the main story line, all the subpar characters get their own little story arcs and we follow them just so the show can drag out its main story line. I really enjoy Shotime’s “Dexter”, I like the character a lot, even some of the arc characters I love – Jimmy Smits and Keith Carradine were excellent, and John Lithgow in the four season of the show puts on a fucking clinic.

With this new season, we’re left picking up the pieces from the previous season. New characters are again introduced, and yet were still left bored to death by some unnecessary character arcs that no one gives a shit about. Look people, Peter Weller (yes Robocop Peter Weller) joined this season of “Dexter” and to be honest – I find him more interesting than any other character on the show, side from Dexter.

I’m getting away from my point, kind of.

HBO’s “Eastbound and Down” just wrapped its second season last Sunday and I am truly mystified by how amazing the show is. The essential plot line is a disgraced MLB pitcher, Kenny Powers (Danny McBride), who is trying to pick up the pieces of his self destructed shattered life. The best way I can actually describe Kenny Powers is a cross between Travis Bickle (DeNiro in “Taxi Driver”) and former MLB pitcher John Rocker.

Season one shows us Kenny is living with his brother Dustin and his family in his hometown. Kenny takes a job as a substitute teacher so he can get the IRS off his back, and they can garnish his wages. While there, he gets an extension because the PE teacher he was subbing for died. His old high school sweetheart April is the school’s art teacher, and she’s engaged to the dorky Principle Terrence Cutler. There is no doubt in Kenny’s mind that he’ll be back in the majors soon, and that he’ll win his girl back. Kenny Powers is insane.

Kenny Powers is the most offensive and crudest character I have ever seen – he does cocaine in the lunch room sitting next to grade schoolers! He tells his grade school students to “get fucked”, “piss off”, and to “go fuck themselves”. The show is incredibly trying, but yet you laugh out loud because the show is so overly offensive. And above all, Kenny Powers is unapologetic.

But what “Eastbound and Down” really is, is the definition of surreal. The show takes place in the real world, with real people and real situations, but what sets it apart from our world is that the character of Kenny Powers could not exist. Sure, there is a part of Kenny Powers in all of us, and sure there are people that are like Kenny, but there is no way that he could actually exist.

The humor that creator Jody Hill (who also wrote and directed “Observe and Report” and “The Fist Foot Way”) is so dark, it blows many “dark comedies” out of the water. Hill gives us these extremely dark and crude situations that are surrounded by a show that is filled with vibrant colors. It’s the ultimate sucker punch.

Season one is pretty good – and the way Hill ends the show is a mirror image to “Five Easy Pieces”. Wait – what? Am I saying that Jody Hill closes the first season of a crude and outrageous show the same way one of the best films of the 1970’s closes? Yes. And it’s perfect.

Season two is amazing. I prefer it hands down over season one. In season two we find Kenny in Mexico – he’s ditched his signature jerry curl and now has dreadlocks. He’s no longer Kenny Powers the baseball player – he’s now Steve the cock fighter!

Season two stands alone from season one. It’s the perfect sequel. The foundation of it was already established in the first season, but as for the second season it can exist on its own terms. It introduces us to new characters, new adventures of Kenny Powers. But of course, what would the show “Eastbound and Down” be without Stevie (Steve Little). If you haven’t seen the show, you won’t understand and significance of the character Stevie, and how he’s just as insane as Kenny Powers.

Stevie is a nerd. He was the music teacher at the school Kenny subbed for. Stevie would do anything for Kenny. Absolutely ANYTHING.

Without recapping the second season, let’s just say Kenny finds his father in Mexico, who is played by Don Johnson, and then gets a offer to be brought up in the minors by a Texas Rangers scout who is a flaming homosexual played by Matthew McConahay. Nough said.

Throughout all of Kenny’s horrendous things that we see him say and do, there are moments in the show that are extremely powerful. In season two, Kenny eventually plays for a Mexican baseball team, and he has a drunken meltdown on the field. I was really taken aback at how heavy and how emotionally charged the scene was. It was a dramatically powerful and very real – it was one of the only times we actually saw humanity inside of Kenny Powers.

The references this show sometimes makes me feel like this show was written specifically for me. There was a scene a couple of episodes ago where Kenny’s beautiful Mexican singer girlfriend was at his friend’s house in his recording studio and his girlfriend was recording a song about how she doesn’t want to be laying next to the man she’s laying with in bed. How she can’t find the strength to leave him. Watching Kenny’s reaction to this song is really funny, but he gets upset about the song and has an excellent dialogue exchange with Mr. Cisneros (Michael Pena) who is his friend and also the owner of the baseball team he’s playing for:

Kenny: “You’re actin’ like I’m Eric Roberts from “Star 80”.

Mr. Cisneros: “I don’t know who Eric Roberts is, man.”

Kenny: “You wouldn’t. Fuckin’ “Best of the Best 2” asshole.

I laughed out loud so hard to that exchange. First off, I love me some Eric Roberts, second off I love the film “Star 80” and it’s directed by Bob Fosse who did, what I consider, the greatest film of all time, “All That Jazz” (1979). When I saw that, I thought to myself – who aside from me would actually get that? Of course I got an instant text from my BFF Peyton about it. Of course he knew, and I’m sure other people got the reference; but I think it is safe to assume that the major demographic for “Eastboud” is the 17 to 25 year old males group. How many of them even know who Eric Roberts is, let alone “Star 80”.

“Best of the Best 2” is a terrible karate movie from the early 90’s. It’s so bad that it makes perfect sense that someone like Kenny Powers would love it. Flawless writing.

During the first season, Will Ferrell is in the show for two episodes as Ashley Shaffer, the owner of a BMW dealership, and he has shoulder length platinum hair, and occasionally does a small “woo” under his breath. He’s obviously a reference to wrestler “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair – but I don’t think many people caught that either.

The writing is incredibly sharp in this show. Though its humor is very crude and trying to its audience at times, I find that the show is incredibly mature – almost too mature for its demographic. If you set aside “South Park” (which I’m not too terribly familiar of) “Eastbound and Down” pushes the limits farther than any television show I have ever seen. Yeah, I know it’s on HBO and they can swear and show tits – it’s not that at all, the subject matter and the themes rooted deep into the show are very much to digest.

What makes this show perfect is that it’s only 30 minutes one day a week and that it doesn’t unravel into different story arc of characters, Kenny is the main focus every single episode. I feel that if this show were turned into a feature film, maybe a two hour feature, it wouldn’t work at all. It would be extremely too much for the audience to digest and enjoy. It would be like the first time you ever watched a porn – you’d be way to over stimulated.

Rating:

Season 1 – 7.5/10

Season 2 – 10/10

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Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

1 thought on “The Definition of Surreal: “Eastbound and Down””

  1. I loved the first season of this show to bits, saw the first two episodes of season two and it seemed to be a bit of a re-hash but with really bad Mexican stereotypes. Waiting for UK TV to pick it up. zzzzzzzz.

    Like you mention, Kenny is the best, one and only reason to be watching the show. Definitely one of the greatest comedy characters in history. And his twitter page is well worth following:

    “A woman has never really raped a man”

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