The first season of Eastbound & Down was nearly flawless. The season’s main focus was on a horrible man devoid of any morals, quite literally, stumbling through life after an epic fall from grace while offending everyone in sight and spraying acerbically funny one liners at each (in his eyes) disgustingly boring and dry person in Shelby, NC. The season is beyond crude, and pushed the limits of humor in a refreshing direction. However, each of the six, half-hour installments have profound moments that the creators expertly sneak in amongst the non-stop absurd humor. We end up caring for all of the memorable characters who deal with Kenny throughout the season.
Despite the tornado that is Kenny’s racism, overtly misogynistic musings, and general disregard for other people, they all show a weakness for Kenny that is laudable because they want this complex monster to succeed. This is why, when the season ends with Kenny leaving April at the gas station, we actually care and were disappointed. As Kenny looks into his rearview mirror, sick with himself but incapable of changing his selfish tendencies enough to actually face failure, the story has earned that moment. With “Kiss the Sky” by Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra telling us, “I hold my head up just enough to see the sky”, we end the season not laughing at all. This is the only way it could end. There is no way that his extreme egocentricity could be rewarded with any silver lining.
But, despite my tendency to over think and analyze anything, the first season is mainly awesome because it is so damn funny.
Chapter 7 (Episode 1, Season Two) opens in Copales, Mexico, with locals running through the streets and down stucco-lined alleyways until the underrated camera work reintroduces us to our favorite anti-hero. Kenny Powers stands over us holding a rabid rooster above his head with his hair in corn rows and a yellow Tommy Bahama shirt covering his dumpy upper body while an excited crowd hurriedly makes bets. Is it weird how unsurprising it is that Kenny Powers would be a cock fighter in Mexico? I pretty much nodded my head with approval as Kenny, with his new sidekicks Aaron and Hector, threaten a man for not paying his cockfighting debts (and take his donkey). Kenny is in the darkest period of his life, which is saying a whole hell of a lot.
Danny McBride is in prime form, once again, as Kenny. He is incredible at creating loser characters who are convinced that they are the alpha male and the epitome of perfection, when their existence, in fact, hurts the world. There is no wink or nod towards how ridiculous what Kenny is saying or doing in McBride’s performance. We are convinced as viewers that this man truly feels what he says. When Kenny describes Mexico as the "butthole of America" it is conveyed to us by Kenny as a simple fact, as if he learned it in geography class.
We are treated to a brief voiceover of Kenny reminiscing about Shelby. We see Kenny’s family and Principal Cutler are doing well, while Stevie is a barista at a Starbucks and April has nowhere to go (Clegg is, unsurprisingly, doing a ton of blow and dancing around with musicians). The two people who showed the most dedication to Kenny are doing horribly. Their unconditional trust in this man has lead to their life being in complete disarray. I hope this foreshadows that we will see these two again later this season. I am just imagining Stevie showing up when Kenny is in a dark place with a creepy smile stating "No, Kenny, I never left".
Kenny’s life is pretty much the same in Mexico as it was in North Carolina, with the large exception that he exists under the alias "Stephen Janowski" (absolutely fantastic detail, by the way). He drinks and drugs with hangers on while they drive around on mopeds from dive bar to dive bar. He is working on a spoken word novel about himself, which seems like a darker sequel to "You’re Fucking Out, I’m Fucking In". Kenny is infatuated with a beautiful woman again. However, this one is not an art teacher; she is a lounge singer who, in an odd little detail, covers Bob Seger songs in Spanish while wearing a tight red dress. Kenny also attends local baseball games and gets hammered while watching the local team, the Charros, get beaten senseless on a regular basis. The manager of the Charros recognizes Kenny in the stands and wonders what he is doing in Mexico, which foreshadows their inevitable conversation at the end of the episode about Kenny joining the team to play.
After Hector and Aaron double cross Kenny and steal all his money and his cocks (which is good because I hope we don’t see much of either character, I didn’t really think they were funny) he is set to face failure again. He has no money, no one he can trust, and most importantly, no one to yes him to death as he rambles about his own awesomeness.
The episode closes, with Kenny deciding to play for the Charros after an unannounced appearance at their practice. He drives his moped onto the field and dramatically admits that he is, in fact, the Kenny Powers. None of the players on the team seem to know who this slob is and are just pissed off because some weird looking white guy is talking down to them. In this scene the writers highlight how little Kenny has evolved since the first season. His speech about joining the team is pretty much the same as the one he gave over the loudspeaker to the middle school when he accepts the gym teacher position in the first season; he blindly assumes that his presence is newsworthy and his peers are his underlings who are in awe of his god like stature, when they are simply puzzled by how pathetic he is. The man hasn’t learned a thing.
The episode is fairly slow and slightly disappointing. Is Kenny still entertaining and hilarious? Yes, and the show is still better than almost anything else on TV. But this episode seems to exist simply to update us about where Kenny is and what he is up to. What is missing, and the aspect of the show that makes the first season so entertaining, is an intriguing set of supporting characters. There were probably ten classic characters in the first season, if not more. I hope that the lack of interest I had in the season premiere had more to do with circumstance; the need to fill the half-hour informing us what has happened to Kenny since we last saw him, which impedes the ability of the writers to include as many details as they want to. I am not going to judge the quality of the season until next week. If a lack of intrigue and laugh-out-loud moments persists, then I will be worried. For now, my excitement that the reverse apache master is back in my life is just as high as the clientele that fill Shaboom Shabooms (which is to say, very).