Eastbound & Down: “Chapter 20”
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Eastbound & Down: “Chapter 20”

I am not generally in the business of giving negative reviews to Eastbound & Down, a show that runs the gamut from pretty fucking sweet to unbelievably awesome, but I made an exception for “Chapter 15”, a ridiculously over-the-top exercise in cartoonish tomfoolery that relegated Kenny Powers to the background so that producer Will Ferrell could run amok and devour copious scenery as nefarious southern dandy and car dealership kingpin Ashley Schaeffer.

In some respects, “Chapter 20” was nearly as cartoonish as “Chapter 15.” Of course, over-the-top is a relative term when it comes to a show as audacious and in-your-face as Eastbound & Down but any episode that features baby-stealing, Stevie sporting a Freddy Krueger knife-glove, a badass black biker gang called the Grim Creepers and Ashley Schaeffer being set on fire by enraged cyclists gets points for chutzpah.

So why is “Chapter 20” emotionally satisfying and fun while “Chapter 15” is a bit of a headache? For starters, Ferrell’s improvisational antics did not dominate the episode the way they did before. The episode also had an emotional component the relentlessly campy “Chapter 15” lacked.

We’ve seen an awful lot of ugliness from Kenny and Stevie this season and while it’d be premature to nominate either party for sainthood “Chapter 20” found both intensely flawed figures at least trying to redeem themselves and be good, responsible men.

For Kenny, that means taking a more active role in raising a son he announces to his perpetually skeptical team he’s “now proud of.” Yes, Kenny is all about maturity and emotional growth this episode, though he tends to talk a bigger game than he actually plays.

Stevie, meanwhile, is still wracked with guilt over having cheated on his wife and desperately wants to make amends to the only woman he has ever loved and the only woman who has ever loved him. Of course this is Stevie and Kenny we’re talking about, so they cannot make one step forward emotionally without shimmying a few steps back.

Stevie, for example, actually delivers a fairly heartfelt monologue in an attempt to win his wife back, albeit while wearing a patently ridiculous wig, but it isn’t long before his wig is ripped off, revealing a sad bald dome covered with glue. That humiliation pales, however, in comparison to the miscue that follows: while in Stevie’s care, Toby is stolen by two of Kenny’s enemies: the nefarious Ashley Schaeffer and his henchmen Reg Mackworthy (Craig Robinson).

If “Chapter 20” had an MVP it would have to be Robinson, who was reintroduced to the Eastbound & Down faithful in a badass opening sequence positing him as the mask-wearing, eye-patch-sporting leader of black biker gang The Grim Creepers. Robinson is a fucking consummate pro and inveterate scene-stealer who was ubiquitous in film and television a few years back but has kept a much lower profile as of late.

He fucking walked away with “Chapter 20” however, which is no small feat when you’re acting opposite Will Ferrell, Danny McBride and Steve Little. The episode’s plot found Mackworthy and his minions descending upon Myrtle Beach for Black Biker Week and purloining Toby while they were in town.

With some prodding from Schaeffer, Mackworthy wants to destroy Kenny’s arm in return for Kenny costing Reg his eye but when Ashley begins treating Reg like a slave and refers to him as his “possession” (an unfortunate turn of phrase when dealing with a heavily armed black biker gang), Reg turns on Ashley and gives Toby back to Kenny.

Reg isn’t such a bad guy after all: he’s just understandably pissed about his eye. Robinson had some big, iconic moments in tonight’s episode but he also excelled in subtler scenes like the one where he tries to figure out the exact length of black biker week and a simultaneous funny and tender moment when he tells Kenny, “I didn’t know you had regular feelings.”

“Chapter 20” was not afraid to go big and goofy. It seemingly killed off Ashley Schaeffer, for example, by setting him on fire in the fucking background of a scene and I fucking loved Stevie and Kenny’s street-fighting outfits, both of which were inspired by blockbuster films of the 1980s: Stevie’s by Nightmare On Elm Street and Kenny’s by Rambo.

Reg and Kenny put their differences and head to a Mermen game where Kenny decides that Reg will be his new catcher; the Mermen manager, however, has saner, less ridiculous ideas. Kenny still saves the day, literally and metaphorically but it’s all really just an elaborate preamble to the real action of the episode: April coming back for Toby.

God bless Eastbound & Down. What other show could glean genuine emotion and pathos from a toy dinosaur with a vibrator stuck up its ass? When April comes back for Toby Kenny professes not to see Toby as anything other than a screaming, needy, obnoxious impediment to his inevitable march to big-league glory but his body language and sad eyes tell a much different story. “Chapter 20” ends with Kenny holding the Dildosaurus Rex that betrays the way he actually feels about his son: he loves the little fucker in spite of himself. It’s the perfect ending to an episode that was wacky and cartoonish but possessed a soft, squishy, even tender heart.

Stray observations:

  • April was looking good tonight
  • Eastbound & Down is one of the best and most directed shows on television. It’s got a whole lot of style.
  • For all his years in baseball, Kenny really does not seem to know how the game works; what manager in their right mind would put in a player who isn’t on the team and can only see out of one eye?
  • I am such an Eastbound & Down geek that I would actually like to see Stevie’s scrapbook
  • Toby is one cute fucking baby.  
Filed Under: TV, Eastbound & Down

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