“This is me now. A man haunted by the sacrifices he’s had to make. A man who ran and never looked back. I left my country to begin a new life, one where I could finally blend with those I was living amongst, become just another face in the crowd.”
Well… anyone who has seen even one episode of HBO’s half-hour comedy Eastbound & Down knows that isn’t going to happen. Former major league pitcher Kenny Powers could no more easily blend into a crowd than Charlie Manson at a law enforcement convention.
I didn’t see the series during either of its first two seasons on HBO. When the second season arrived to be reviewed I was more than a little nervous about jumping in without knowing what had come before. Certainly, I checked out the buzz on the show and got an idea of what it was about. But nothing could have prepared me for what I finally encountered when I popped that first disc in my Blu-ray player. It’s safe to say that you can join this show for the second season without having seen the first. I’m sure it helps, but it didn’t take me more than five minutes to completely understand who and what Kenny Powers was. He literally speaks for himself.
From what I can gather the first season introduced us to Kenny Powers (McBride). He was a talented pitcher for Atlanta. He’s the stereotype of every self-centered athlete we’ve ever seen. He cares only about himself and has no respect for the people around him, and that obviously included his teammates. His attitude got him in hot water with the commissioner and out of Atlanta. He ended up as a teacher in a local high school where his antics didn’t go over any better. Whoever thought this egomaniac with the toilet mouth belonged in a room with kids was probably on crack at the time. When last you saw Powers, he was about to go to Tampa to play for a new team. So he’d packed up his life and girlfriend April (Mixon) to start their new lives in Tampa, when the hammer fell and the deal fell through. What does Powers do then? He leaves April standing in a gas station parking lot and heads out of Dodge. So where did Powers go?
“Sometimes I did wonder about them. How they’d deal with the holes, the agonies, the darkness that no doubt fell upon them when I rode off into the sunset and took that sunset with me. Do they even remember what it’s like to have hope? Did they forget how to close their eyes and dream? Did they discover that without me they may as well not exist?”
The second season begins by answering that question. We find that Powers has settled in Mexico where he considers himself somewhat of an outlaw. He’s taken on the identity of “Steve”. He gets by with cockfights and gambling, that is when he isn’t tapping his best friend Steve’s (Little) credit card to the tune of about $20,000. When Steve finally tracks him down they both consider the credit card charges as “breadcrumbs” Powers was leaving for his friend to come and find him. So Steve, who idolizes Powers, shows up unannounced and gets shot in the leg when Powers mistakes him for a burglar. When Steve complains about the wound Powers reminds him that he’s not the only one suffering. After all, the handgun kicked a little and scratched his hand. That’s the kind of guy Powers is. Steve sticks around and plays sidekick to the crazy Powers. That role had earlier belonged to Aaron (Roy) as a midget who worked with Powers in his cockfighting gig until their prize fighter, Big Red, gets killed. Aaron turns on Powers and strikes out on his own.
Powers ends up joining the local baseball team in order to create some buzz that he still has what it takes to pitch. Of course, his self-centered attitude and antics create more problems for the team. Powers also has a new lady in his life. He meets Vida (Reguera) at a bar where she’s a singer. He ends up caught in a love triangle when the team owner Roger (Rodriguez) falls for the girl. Don Johnson shows up as Powers’s father and we soon find out exactly where he gets his attitude from. Let’s just say this acorn didn’t fall far from the tree at all.
The show is a bit of an enigma to me. There’s no doubt that the writing and performances are absolutely golden. There are more laughs packed into a half hour of this show than most shows see in an entire season. You will find yourself laughing in spite of the total lack of political correctness. It’s great, isn’t it? What confuses me is how they do it. On the surface this should play out for about as long as a mediocre Saturday Night Live skit. There’s not a lot of meat or particularly clever things going on. And yet it’s about as funny as anything I’ve seen in a very long time.
Danny McBride is also a writer and producer on the show. You’d think that it was a one-man effort, but it most certainly is not. McBride’s character would get old fast if not for the solid performances around him. The team here understands quite well how much gold you can mine with the right cast and situations. His racist remarks might just be shocking if not for the Mexican cast that he’s playing to here. It’s like they understand him and somehow it’s no longer shocking but somehow safe to laugh at, and laugh you will. How he treats his friends and women would be a bore if not for the people who populate these positions in his life. The show’s loaded with “straight men” that make McBride’s performance that much better. There’s certainly a line here and Eastbound And Down dances all over it.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 20-25 mbps. The picture looks almost too good for a comedy. The Mexican locations contain a ton of texture that puts more reality into this image than we might be used to for a comedy show. We’re talking solid colors that jump out at you at times. The black levels are solid and display a wonderful range of shadow definition. Close-ups are almost painfully sharp on those faces.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also more active than you might expect. Yes, the focus is on the dialog, but there is still a depth to the audio that is bolstered by a nice sound design and dynamic audio presentation.
Invitation To The Set: (8:30) This behind the scenes feature focuses on the whole Mexican angle of the season.
Big Red Cockfighting: (4:18) Another look at the Mexican cast and locations.
Deleted Scenes: (16:00)
It’s all in HD
For fans of the first season I’m not sure how you’re going to take to such a drastic change in environment. Most of that cast doesn’t come along for the ride here. By the end of the episode you do see some familiar faces and, of course, Steve is here for most of the run. Steve Little was probably the best actor/character to bring along. He appears to be the only one who worships Powers for exactly who he is. The two have great chemistry, and I can imagine all of that was established in the first season. Fear not, first season fans. I think you’re going to love the way this whole thing turned out. Deep Roy is a great character here, and I was kind of hoping we’d see more of him. It’s the ultimate anti-hero comedy, and I suspect plenty of sports fans might find a little too much truth in Kenny Powers when it comes to certain real-life athletes, “and you know who you are”.