I love Kenny Powers. I have done since the moment his foul mouthed mullet of a head came on screen courtesy of HBO. And with the third Season having only recently ended on the leviathan of a network, it seemed that this was the end. Yet last week HBO ordered more episodes of the successful comedy for a fourth season, but something just doesn’t feel right about it. And as much as I will be returning to watch whatever Danny McBride and Jody Hill have planned for Kenny and show-stealer Stevie Janowski, I will be doing so with trepidation.
In the shows first season Kenny had been dropped from the majors due to a number of factors, none more so than the fact he was overweight, over confident in an ability which had faded and that he had a penchant to do a lot of drugs and cause a lot of havoc. As he says quite eloquently,
“When my ass was 19 years old, I changed the face of professional baseball. I was handed the keys to the kingdom, multi-million dollar deals, endorsements. Everyone wanted a piece of my shit. Just a man with a mind for victory and an arm like a fucking cannon. But sometimes when you bring the thunder, you get lost in the storm.”
And that storm leads him back to his hometown as a P.E. teacher where he meets the once love of his life, April Buchanan. Yet with all his chauvinistic bravado, there is a vulnerability to his character which makes it so interesting to watch. Amongst all the slapstick, inappropriateness and all round hilarity there is a dark side to the show. So when at the end of a brilliant first season, Kenny’s promise of a big time move to Tampa falls through, Kenny can’t handle the failure and his vulnerable side leads him to dump April at a gas station and drive onwards to Mexico. And although its second season was shaky and less consistent than the first it was an important road to take, introducing us to Kenny’s long lost dad and setting Kenny lose in Mexico did allow for some rather brilliant xenophobic one liners. With the season’s punch line being that April was pregnant with his son (I had my fingers crossed that somehow it would have his mullet from birth), expectations were high going into season number three.
And those expectations were met with a superb season which brought the show back up to the brilliant standard of the first. With Kenny forced into becoming a dad to his young son Toby, the writers got the perfect foil for Kenny’s arrogance and exposed his vulnerability once more. With the additions of Jason Sudekis as his best friend Shane, Lily Tomlin as Kenny’s mum and the return of both McConaughey and Ferrell, season three was consistently funny and dark. Ashley Schaeffer’s development into a very racist plantation owner in episode two was by far the craziest route the show has taken and it was pulled off with such composure by the show’s writers. And as the season winded down we knew that this would be the end, the final curtain on Kenny Powers. For a while McBride and co. had been making comments which suggested that season three would be the end. Danny McBride had said so himself telling people at PaleyFest in November of last year,
“The third season to us has always been the climax of the story we set out to tell”
It seemed that Kenny Powers had an arc all along and that this was it. Thus when I sat down to watch the finale of season three, I did so knowing that this would be the last time I get to see Kenny’s Mullet or Stevie Janowski’s fake eyebrows. So when Kenny made it back to the majors I was happy for him but knowing this show writing, I knew it wouldn’t last. So when he threw it all away, got in a car and began drinking on a dark road I had a feeling the writers were about to do something extremely audacious. They were going to kill Kenny Powers. Which for about two minutes I believed was possible, except that wouldn’t be very Eastbound and Down. Because for every dark moment, and there are a lot, there is always the return to comedy. A newly bleached blonde mullet later and Kenny was alive, faking his death because the ‘press and public’ would never leave him alone. Only the deluded arrogance of Kenny could believe that he could have an Elvis moment. At first I was genuinely angry that they hadn’t gone through with ‘the killing’ but slowly I came to realise that this is how it should end. Kenny’s own extreme way of living comes back to the fore, the ridiculousness of the steps he takes in life, his arrogance, his love for April, it all suddenly felt perfect. It felt like a natural end, well natural in the realm of Eastbound.
That was until last week when HBO ordered another 8 episode season of the show, which McBride and Hill have agreed to. But I can’t help but think that this is a really bad idea. There was a bittersweet feeling as the newly bleached Kenny took April’s hand and ran into the house at its end. We never wanted to let him go but it felt right at that moment to do so. They have taken Kenny to the darkest of places and he has come out the other side. But characters such as his have a lifespan, they always need a goal to aim for and Kenny turned his down rather spectacularly at the season’s end. The majors was always his goal in life, it was the basis for his arrogance and the foundations for the shows storylines. We would be blind to believe that comedy did not stem from it. In Friends (a farfetched example I know) Ross and Rachel were rarely shown as ‘being together’ because the comedy and drama existed around that premise. In the now cancelled How To Make It In America, Cam and Ben could never actually make it in America because then the show would have no foundation. And ever since Barney decided he was in love with Robin in How I Met Your Mother, Barney’s status as the ‘reason to watch the show’ has dwindled faster than a Greek bank.
The quotes so far have done nothing to appease my fears, McBride himself said to the New York Times, “I think this opportunity to do this one extra season – this bonus round with Kenny – creatively, we have the goods to deliver on that”. Do we need a bonus round? It all feels very much like this could be a tacked on season to generate money. The show has been very successful but it has not been flawless in quality, I worry that by attaching another season will damage the overall legacy of this show. Kenny’s child Toby, existed in season three as an obstacle that he had to overcome or embrace to achieve his goal, now that the he has overcome the obstacle and accepted fatherhood (No more lettuce and baby in a backpack) are we going to witness a season four transformation into Kenny Powers as the family man?
My point is that the brilliance in Eastbound and Down was that Kenny was a complete arsehole, he never ceased to be anything but, and we embraced it, we watched it grow and we loved every second of it. But now he has reached his target of getting back to the majors, a purpose which drove the majority of the comedy. In the season finale he threw it away to be with April and Toby, which drove the dramatic element of Eastbound throughout the seasons. So what drives Kenny Powers now? The possibilities are unfortunately limited, personally I don’t want to see an up and down relationship with April now. I don’t want to see Kenny Powers developing his responsibility as a father. And I don’t want to see Kenny Powers try yet again to get back into the majors. I am genuinely confused at the decision to green light a whole season, seeing as The Office (The UK version) is a big influence for McBride and Hill it is surprising to see that they have accepted HBO’s order. Gervais knew to end the show after two seasons, albeit with two Christmas specials, but he did so probably knowing he had the talent to write more but he knew the character could only go so far. McBride himself had said that he could envisage an hour long special of Eastbound and so could I; but an eight episode order from HBO? That seems to be a creative step too far. He may of brought us Eastbound but he also brought us Your Highness.
Of course I will watch a 4th season, but I fell in love with a brown mullet laden Kenny Powers who strived to get into the majors, nothing was going to hold him back not even a foray into parenthood. But now I’m unsure as to how I feel about a bleached blonde Kenny living a sitcom-esque life with April and Toby. McBride and Hill are in a corner, a corner which I’m sure has garnered them a lot of money, but a corner nonetheless. I don’t know how they’re going to get out of it and to be honest I’m not sure I have enough faith in them to do so.