With Molly on pod leave for the week, Tess and Emily bid farewell to Eastbound & Down — clearly reluctantly, because we're already longing for a version of Kanye West's "Bound 2” video starring Kenny and April. We then dig into the video and the strong reactions it has elicited, defending it against the haters while also trying to figure out if there's any point at which we might be giving Kanye too much credit.
The same question could be asked of Lady Gaga and R. Kelly's incredible performance on SNL this week, yet another musical moment that put us in the Grantland minority for finding it to be a triumph. What is the meaning of Gaga's post-album-drop plastic wig? Is invoking the art world exploiting a loophole against criticism? Will Black Panties leap over the entire 2013 pop wars like a majestic sex dolphin? We do not have the answers to any of these questions, but we'll be jamming to "Italian Hero Sandwich of Love" till December 10.
When we first met Kenny Powers, four years and 28 chapters ago, he appeared more caricature than character: a couple catchphrases, a mullet, and two proudly erect middle fingers. As with many of the projects to vaporize out of the heads of Danny McBride and his frequent collaborators, there was a distinct eau de dorm room about the whole thing. McBride hated sports and had no idea how to throw a baseball, he just liked the idea of an unreconstructed dummy getting by on velocity and bullshit. Peacocking around in Kenny's cleats seemed like a promising way to get him and his buddies paid for giggling about their favorite things: Southern suburban malaise, herculean drug use, and cursing in front of children.
Let me be clear: I would have had no trouble with Eastbound & Down had its lone storytelling goal been to make stoners laugh until they sneezed Cheeto dust. Plenty of sitcoms aspire to much less. But the hunger for greatness burning inside Kenny Powers began as more than mere munchies in the minds of his creators. Jody Hill and fellow director pal David Gordon Green had visions of cinematic grandeur, treating each half-hour installment as a mini-movie, replete with the beats and bumps of a '70s blockbuster. And with the goateed, hyper-verbal K.P., McBride created the perfect avatar for his louche precision. (Nobody delivers gassy nonsense with the delicacy and rigor of McBride. He's like a Swiss whoopee cushion.) Thanks to their efforts, Eastbound crossed over from making fun of its hyper-specific milieu to having fun with it. That first season, in which a humbled Kenny, exiled from baseball, returns home to work as a substitute teacher and wrestle with the twin shackles of failure and humiliation, managed to be that rarest of flowers: something that celebrates the very thing it's satirizing. In McBride and Hill's hands, a lonely Jet Ski ride was imbued with pathos, not pity. It was funny because it was sad, sure, but that's the easy part. It was also sad because it was so terrifically funny.
On the night of Sunday, September 29, millions of Americans tuned in to witness the beginning of an entitled narcissist's final act. This goateed sociopath had chosen drugs and glory over the more simple pleasures of family, and, along with a foul-mouthed associate, had created an alter ego whose name rang out on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. The end of his blinkered, bumpy journey promised blood, stimulants and — if audiences were lucky — Jet Skis.
As it turned out, Heisenberg's return to suburbia was a lot more violent — and popular! — than La Flama Blanca's. But I'm not sure it was necessarily more successful. In its fourth and final season, HBO's Eastbound & Down hasn't so much found another level as it has reclaimed its glorious, tarnished crown. Kenny Powers's pilgrimages to Mexico and Myrtle Beach were plenty exotic and often deeply, appallingly funny. But neither matched the highs or the strangely affecting lows of that impeccable first season, when Kenny — a dim-witted, drug-hoovering buffoon, recently furloughed from his 10th and final major league baseball team — was forced to confront a fate worse than death: real life.
While putting together my piece on the end of Eastbound & Down, I had phone and e-mail exchanges with a bunch of smart, funny people. Most of the stuff ended up in the piece. Here's some of it that didn't.
David Gordon Green
Before David Gordon Green was a pensive indie auteur turned studio comedy technician turned "guy who does whatever the hell he wants" (next up: a movie with Nicolas Cage!), he was living on the same dorm floor as Danny McBride and Jody Hill. According to Hill, back at the North Carolina School of the Arts, "David Green, he could quote release dates of movies from like 1980 on. It freaked me out a little bit."
After the bonanza of behind-the-scenes train wrecks that was The Canyons, you'd think that, at least in the immediate aftermath, we wouldn't be able to rely on Lindsay Lohan for much more action. But like MJ against the Blazers in '92, Lohan can't miss right now. So feast your eyes on this latest bit of WTF. After Lindsay posted an Instagram selfie with the caption "#back@work! So grateful today! : )," E! did some snooping and found that said work meant a cameo on Eastbound & Down. That's right: Lindsay Lohan's riding with Kenny Powers.
Did you forget they're even making another season of Eastbound & Down? No worries, it's a common mistake. The third season was trumped up in advance as the last hurrah, and its go-for-broke finale seemed to seal the deal for ol' Kenny Fucking Powers. It was all a bit overwhelming at the time, but having KP SPOILER ALERT unnecessarily fake his own death right after he finally makes it back to the majors, in order to get back to his family, feels right. Because he's a fuck-up. And, more often than not, truly a horrible person. But, deep down somewhere, he's got good intentions. And a serious appreciation for boobs.
But anyway: At some point after Kenny went blond, HBO decided they wanted the Danny McBride–Jody Hill power duo back on for one more go-round. And the crazy thing is, the network would have apparently happily green-lit a fifth season, too, if those dudes had been down. But even the industry fantasyland that is HBO wasn't enough to keep Danny and Jody on board. Said McBride: "HBO definitely wants us, and Jody Hill and I love writing for the show. … But there is other stuff we’d like to do. Both of us are ready to make jokes concerning people who don’t have strange haircuts."
Reporters can be so stodgy. That's why it's nice to see them lose their brains every so often, like Allie Mac Kay did when confronted with the supreme awesomeness of a magic trick on KTLA. For some reason, this fluffy piece seems to have caused some torment for Mac Kay after a bleep was inserted into her reaction, which made it look like she'd dropped an s-bomb (NOOO!). The video was removed from YouTube and the Huffington Post for a while in order for the unbleeped version to reveal that Mac Kay only said "crap," leading me to believe she had one of those Internet-induced page fright meltdowns (and a for-the-record tweet that goes along with them). Don't worry, Mac Kay. Nobody's going to mistake you for a gangster anchor. That seat is occupied by Brian Williams.
Guess who's back from near-death?! Despite Eastbound & Down co-creators Jody Hill and Danny McBride's repeated declarations that their third season was always meant to be their last, HBO has now picked up the show for a fourth season of eight episodes. First of all: Hoor-fuckin'-ay. Second: What just happened?
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.
It's obvious that the team behind Eastbound & Down are fans of Michael Mann's '80s archetypal series Miami Vice — the casting of Don Johnson as Señor Powers Sr. is just one of many shout-outs to Mann's sweaty Southern neon noir. Herewith, a tribute to Don "Eduardo Sanchez" Johnson and all things Miami Vice.
"The cop show just graduated to the '80s." A reel of every NBC (old slogan: "Let's all be there!") promo commercial for Miami Vice. "Feel it coming this fall."
Kenny Powers was a 1970s stuntman who ghost-stunted for the more famous Canadian stuntman/daredevil Ken Carter during a famous failed jump in 1976. Ken Carter publicly promised to jump the Saint Lawrence River in a Lincoln Continental augmented with rockets; the process of building the car and ramp was documented in a Canadian documentary called The Devil at Your Heels. Carter got ABC to pay him $250,000 to broadcast the stunt on Wide World of Sports, but as the date approached, he realized the jump was likely impossible and chickened out. (Evel Knievel visited the site and personally judged the potential for success highly fucking unlikely.)
Since talking about last night's episode of Eastbound & Down would be impossible without inventing an entirely new language, your palate cleanser from all the Oscar coverage is not a recap. It's a Kenny Powers dubstep K-hole. Let's motherfuckin' go!
"Kenny Powers" - Control/Kthulhu
This wobbly track from Control/Kthulhu is called "Kenny Powers," samples the man himself, and is perfect for recutting Season 1's MDMA-fueled school dance sequence.
The Hollywood Prospectus podcast is now weekly and free to cover any topics in the pop culture universe. To celebrate, Chris Ryan and I talked ... mostly about TV! Our conversation ranged from The Simpsons’ 500th episode to whether a Friday Night Lights movie is a good idea (we even supplied some better ones; you’re welcome, Peter Berg!). We also touched on the glories of Eastbound & Down, the sorrows of Life’s Too Short, the finale of Downton Abbey, and the continued zombie stagger of The Walking Dead. There’s even some talk about the Oscars and why, just maybe, we don’t care so much about them anymore. Listen now, and if you happen to know Josh Lucas (or his agent), tell him to listen, too! We’ve got the perfect part for him!