Eastbound & Down: "Chapter 12"
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Eastbound & Down: "Chapter 12"

(So this piece assumes this week is the finale, due to bad information. Actually, the finale airs next week, but given the fact that this is apparently the end of the Mexico storyline, most of this still largely makes sense. -- TV)

Comedy sequels are tough. Usually, a comedy movie or series or book or what have you will expend most of its available premise and world within its confines, so coming up with a way to extend that story or even just set the characters of the first story in a new story setting can be enormously difficult. It's why so many comedy sequels are awful, regardless of the quality of the original. The comedy sequel always carries with it a taste of the unnecessary, a sense that even though it's nice to hang out with the characters again, there's no real reason for anything here to exist.

Eastbound & Down faced this problem heading into its second season. Its first season was less a traditional TV comedy and more a comedy movie split into six half hours, a cliffhanger ending tacked on to the end. (I realize this is far from a unique comparison point, but stay with me here.) So season two had to figure out a way to reintroduce Kenny Powers and, presumably, the rest of the characters, but come up with reasons for them to all be in the same general vicinity of each other again. The show took a fairly standard tack for a comedy sequel, shipping all of the action to another locale, in this case, Mexico.

I think Eastbound's first season was better than its second, but it was a close enough call for me to be able to call the second season an unqualified success. In the early going, it felt like the show was struggling to find that reason to exist, the story that would justify all of Kenny's adventures in Mexico, but as the season wore on and the story threads began to come together, the design of the season became much more apparent. (As well as season one played on DVD, I suspect this one will play even better.) It certainly helps that tonight's season finale is the strongest half hour of the season, an episode full of the kinds of self-confident, white trash nastiness that makes Kenny Powers such a great character and all of the little details around the edges that make the show as great as it can be. Also, it featured Matthew McConaughey as a scout eager to send Kenny on the road toward his next stop on the way to restored prominence: Myrtle Beach, to try out for a minor league team. McConaughey can often mean very bad things, but he's turned his laconic, goofy charm all the way up here, and his short cameo is one of the episode's funniest moments.

But let's back up a bit. Pat (Adam Scott), the agent who messed up Kenny's life back in season one, is going through a 12-step program, and he needs to make amends. He starts by apologizing to his sponsor for sleeping with the sponsor's wife (while his sister watched), then realized Kenny Powers is the man he's wronged the second most in his entire life. (One of the things I've loved about this season is how much it's reinforced that the entire world revolves around Kenny just as much as he thinks it does.) So he heads down to Mexico, to give Kenny the mission he's needed since things with his dad fell apart: He's going to play with the Charros one last time, giving the scout a chance to see his best stuff. And if he's as good as he's been, Pat says, there's a really good chance he'll be back in the big leagues before long.

From there, it's a long farewell tour of the show's Mexican setting. Since the outcome of the episode is never really in doubt - does anyone actually think Kenny might get screwed over yet again? - this has a nicely nostalgic feel, as Kenny patches things up with people he's wronged and visits Vida one last time to confirm that he is, indeed, a tit man, not an ass man. He also gives Stevie his blessing to marry Maria, one of those mercurial mood shifts that Danny McBride plays so well. The episode doesn't have a structure so much as it has a bunch of comic payoffs, but those comic payoffs are all so good that it almost doesn't matter. Scenes like Kenny's last visit to Vida or his attempts to reconcile with the team's owner are just an excuse for McBride to say a bunch of crazy shit, but the punchlines come readily and quickly. The finale just might be the funniest episode of the season.

When looking at Eastbound & Down's second season as a comedy sequel, it's notable that the show didn't try too hard to fit all of its pieces and all of its characters back into the larger picture. Outside of a few short shots of the season one ensemble in the premiere, we didn't spend time with April or Kenny's brother or any of those characters. The producers wisely realized that the biggest single strength the show has going for it is Kenny, one of the best comedic creations on TV in a long time. From there, they quickly figured out that the only season one character Kenny really needed to keep things rolling along was Stevie, and the interactions between those two were uniformly the strongest part of season two. I'm not as certain that any of the new characters can match up to their season one counterparts, but I've also had a lot more time to live with season one. Maybe the new characters will grow on me just as much with time.

Eastbound & Down will be back for a third season, likely sometime next year (for whatever reason, Eastbound and Bored to Death make a good pair, and HBO is happy with their performance together this year). Already, the writers have pushed past what was originally the plan for two short seasons of six episodes each. On the other hand, the show's structure more and more seems like a series of comic novels, sharing the same protagonist, but with the situations changing with every new book. The stories all together will eventually tell the story of Kenny's return to prominence, all the while proving to the rest of the world that he's as amazing as he imagines himself to be. Eastbound & Down's second season succeeded because it never lost sight of the fact that the show, at its best, is a fairly classic Joseph Campbell hero's journey where the hero is a real asshole.

Stray observations:

  • I'm not Nathan, who's busy this weekend. He'll be back for season three, whenever that airs.
  • "It's gonna take more than a goddamn Speak 'n' Spell to win yourself back into the good grace of Kenny Powers."
  • "Why's your voice raised like a scared little bitch?"
  • "My spreadsheets!"
  • "I acted like it's no big deal that my parents are dead, but it is a big deal. It hurts my heart, man."
  • "I was just like you yesterday."
  • "In many ways, I feel like you are the father to all the Mexicans here."
  • "Once Jesus leaves the building, he is out of Mexico for good."
  • "You're a gunslinger?" "The short answer to that, Tony, is yes, yes I am."
  • "But all the ass magic in Mexico can't change Kenny Powers' core beliefs."
  • "George Washington will never be able to cut down the beanstalk."
  • "If that's what it takes, then a cock and dream it will be sucked upon."
  • "Whenever I look at a Mexican, I will think of you. Whenever you look at that jackass, you think of me."
  • "Be careful about the back legs. He will kick you in the face."
Filed Under: TV, Eastbound & Down

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