Sunday-night television really put my emotions through the washing machine this week. While Pete Campbell was measuring himself for stereo coffins on Mad Men, Kenny Powers went out on a high/low note in the best series finale since The Sopranos left Tony holding Schrodinger's cannoli. I welled up a little when Stevie and Maria declared their independence from Kenny and choked laughing when he pushed Stevie's face in her tits. I was all set to bawl when I seriously thought La Flama Blanca was muerto, and ready to kill him when he came back with Ponyboy Curtis blond hair. What made Eastbound & Down such a cut above most comedies was its capacity to arouse real emotional reactions. Combining indie-film naturalism with '80s action-movie bombast, it was as truthful as it was absurd. The show could do something as willfully zany as the Ashley Schaeffer plantation subplot and somehow keep me invested in Kenny's moral development like it really fucking matters. As refreshing as it was to see such an unapologetic prick when Eastbound & Down started, it was equally exciting to explore the depths of Kenny's secret sweetness through the next two seasons.
No matter how dark it went, the show never collapsed into cynical sourness or pure nihilism (although clearly DMT-smoking/Bangles-loving new dad Kenny likes to dance with the devil). It also never curdled into smugness or preciousness, even when they introduced the traditionally sitcom-ruining twist of a baby. For managing that alone they deserve a trophy, not to mention all the television medals they deserve for making me believe that they were really going to let Kenny die on his Cameron Crowe quest to reunite his family. At first I was annoyed that they pulled back from going the full Dead Man's Curve, but ultimately I was just happy and relieved (I exhaled) that Kenny was still alive. Then I cursed out Jody Hill, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride for scaring me like that. Then I remembered that Kenny Powers is a fictional character, and that I only feel like I know him as well as actual friends of mine I've known for years and years because that is how good of a show Eastbound & Down was. Much of the credit for that goes to Danny McBride, whose performance is itself a no-hitter.
Myrtle Beach got us closer than ever to the root of the Powers mystique, as his status was threatened by the phenomenal Ike Barinholtz as Kenny's "Top DJ" Russian nemesis, Ivan Dochenko. Meeting Kenny's parents was like encountering your friend's folks for the first time: suddenly, certain physical features and mannerisms make sense and you realize adults were not made in a vacuum, they learned it somewhere and became that way over time. I have never laughed harder than when Lily Tomlin insisted Kenny share his joint with her, and then blew the smoke through a cardboard tube with a dryer sheet taped to the end. There were racks on racks of catchphrases and sight gags all season long. I will never listen to Candlebox the same way again. I require a GIF of Season 3 MVP Jason Sudeikis as Shane's twin brother making a goatee with his hands in the mirror.
Pride is Kenny Powers. It gives us the confidence to close. It greets rejection with "fuck that noise." It takes rules as suggestions and trucks from dead friends. Kenny Powers went to space and returned to a television landscape that had changed around him. We will never forget what he did for us. Fuck Bob Duato.