What does Eastbound & Down have in common with Breaking Bad? In each case, it seems the show’s creators have used their final season to push audience empathy for the central character to the breaking point. Are you still rooting for this guy? If so, why? Is there any shred of humanity left beneath the many layers of despicable behavior? The delivery vehicles are very different: One is a crime drama, and one is a cringe comedy. Yet both shows have managed to churn up very similar waves of gut-punching emotion on their way out the door.
This week’s episode delivers the heaviest blow yet to the idea that Kenny Powers is any sort of character worth rooting for, and it does so in the guise of the Eastbound & Down Christmas Special we never knew we needed until now. The arc of “Chapter 28” is as familiar as Dickens or Dr. Seuss, but neither Ebenezer Scrooge nor the Grinch could pull off the fringed black leather Santa suit Kenny rocks in this episode. The story may be familiar, but it s the telling that counts, and it’s never been told quite like this.
Kenny has triumphed. He’s crushed his enemies. Guy Young is out the door, leaving Kenny as host of Sports Sesh and Stevie as the megalomaniacal taskmaster running the show. (Stevie’s brand-new prosthetic chin, which suggests what would happen if Jay Leno sprouted Bruce Campbell from his lower jaw, is the episode’s most mesmerizing sight gag.) Having been thrown out of the house by April, he’s now living in a high-rise hotel suite, screwing hookers and snorting blow to his heart’s content. He intends to celebrate the holidays by crushing April in both the divorce settlement and the gift-giving to their children. Christmas is just another competition for Kenny: It’s not something to be shared with family; it’s something to be won.
It was easier to forgive Kenny for his pettiness and egomania when he was an underdog, struggling to make it back to the bigs. Now that he’s achieved the wealth and fame he sought and there’s not an even bigger jerk in the room to serve as his foil, we’re left with a selfish gasbag whose worst impulses are now, like Dakota the wolf, completely off the leash. His treatment of April in this episode is KP at his absolute worst. If the series is building to a reconciliation between the two in the finale, it’s going to be tricky to pull off. Who doesn’t believe April deserves better at this point?
And yet, like Scrooge and the Grinch before him, perhaps it’s still possible for Kenny to be redeemed. First, however, he has to top even Guy Young in the category of public meltdowns by sports talk show hosts. Sure, Guy spouted some nasty, racist shit in front of his audience, but he never stooped so low as to say “Fuck Christmas!” Kenny’s unhinged, profane holiday rant should be a a staple of Yuletide playlists for decades to come, but calling Santa a dicklicker and announcing that “Christmas is pretty much of crock of shit, is it not?” probably ensures that Kenny’s Sports Sesh career is at an end, particularly since his co-hosts have already quit.
His sideline business isn’t doing too well either, as for some reason the Taters ‘N Tits concept hasn’t caught on at the mall. As quickly as he rocketed to fame and fortune, Kenny has come crashing back to earth. And while it would probably be a stretch to say that this humbling experience has taught him the true meaning of Christmas, at least some semblance of the spirit of the season has penetrated his mullet. He reconciles with his brother Dustin, joining him and his family for caroling even though “that shit’s for Christians and retards.” He gives Stevie the greatest gift of all (his screenplay), and his children what they most desire (the return of Dakota). Maybe Kenny’s heart didn’t grow three sizes this day, but has he salvaged enough of his humanity to bring Eastbound & Down to something resembling a happy ending? Only one episode remains (if we can trust HBO this time, that is).
- The comedy MVP of this episode was definitely Kenny’s Little Helper. The shot of him holding open the limo door for Kenny had me laughing harder than anything else this week.
- Even guessing ahead of time that Stevie was going to accidentally shoot his chin off didn’t prepare me for the sheer horror/hilarity of the moment.
- “You clean up these feexins right now!”
- Kenny wants his sound team to assemble a symphony of farts for the Christmas episode, because what could be more festive?