HBO is the Bart Cummings of TV programming. One of the more recent bolters to emerge from its prodigious stable is Eastbound and Down, a show as crass as it is engaging.
From the outset, you are treated to the sort of language and behaviour that makes the censors’ job that much easier. Here is a program that earns its MA rating. One wonders whether the classification minions have a chuckle at shows such as Eastbound or are they so desensitised to anatomical references and drug-induced chaos that they sit there in the viewing room, clipboard in lap, blue Bic pen in hand, shaking their heads at the decline of television; perhaps yearning for the good, clean fun of Get Smart?
Eastbound concerns Kenny Powers (Danny McBride), a Major League baseball pitcher who has “an arm like a f-cking cannon”. His talent deserts him and he’s forced back to his hometown of Shelby, North Carolina, where he begrudgingly takes up a position as a substitute PE teacher.
McBride makes the show. His tragi-comic portrayal of the egomaniacal Powers is similar to his performance as the arrogant taekwondo instructor in The Foot Fist Way. He created Eastbound with Foot Fist alums Jody Hill and Ben Best. It won’t be long before they become the triumvirate of American adult comedy.
The key to McBride’s performance lies not in redemption or reformation but relentlessness. Powers is self-absorbed, rude, wanton and unapologetic. The supporting characters are willing to tolerate (to a point) his effrontery, since they view him as deluded and pitiful. You will, too.
Powers clings to past glories like a frightened kid on the monkey bars. His eventual realisation of how far he’s fallen and subsequent implosion over six episodes is intriguing to watch.
This review makes Eastbound sound far more sobering than it is. There are definitely emotional moments but they’re saved from turning saccharine by frequent salty tirades from Powers. For a crude comedy, it touches on many things: parochialism, American values, family dynamics and the corrosive power of fame. Most importantly, Eastbound and Down regularly touches the funny bone.
The details: Eastbound and Down: Season One is widely available on DVD. The second season premiered in the US this week.