There are two primary schools of thought regarding Eastbound & Down lasting beyond a single season. To some, the first season of Eastbound & Down functions so beautifully as a self-contained, immensely satisfying narrative that a second season represents messing with perfection. Creators Ben Best, Jody Hill and Danny McBride conceived of the show along cinematic lines; season one is a 1970s style, hilariously profane baseball movie that just happened to skip the theaters. Consequently, a second season can’t help but feel less like a continuation than a sequel and heaven knows the world doesn’t need any more sequels.
Then again, the world definitely does need more Kenny Fucking Powers, the mulleted, coke-snorting, book-dictating badass who’s part cult icon, part anti-hero for the ages and part modern-day folk hero. So if you’re the braintrust behind Eastbound & Down do you end on a high note and leave cultists panting for more or do you return and risk disappointing die-hards? Also complicating matters: Eastbound & Down ended with its protagonist burning all of his bridges and fleeing in shame from the mess he’d created.
The end of Eastbound & Down's left its anti-hero with precious few options. Powers can’t go home again a second time so he does what men have always done when they’ve fucked up their lives and the lives of those around them: he runs away and tries to lose himself.
The opener to season two finds Powers willingly losing what’s most important to him: his identity. Powers has always gotten off and gotten high on lofty self-regard but as season two opens he has fled to Mexico and appropriated the name and, for that matter, credit cards of his hapless American sidekick Stevie and become the handler of a championship cock (yes I realize how homoerotic that line is).
In 1970s cinematic terms, he’s gone from Bad News Bears to Cockfighter. Powers may have lost his swagger, his mojo and his seemingly impregnable but ultimately fragile self-esteem but thankfully his conception of himself as a mythic creature remains intact.
In hilariously hyperbolic voiceover, Powers ponders of the folks he left behind when he fled God’s own United States, “Do they even remember what it’s like to have hope? Did they forget what it was like to close their eyes and dream? Did they discover that without me, they might as well not even exist?” opposite idyllic images of his brother’s family, bartender buddy and old principal clearly having the time of their life and basking in the drama-free paradise that is a world without Kenny Powers.
Only Stevie and April seem troubled by Kenny’s absence though something tells me we haven’t seen the last of either. In Eastbound & Down it’s hair, not clothes, that make the man. So when Kenny trades in his signature mullet for cornrows it’s as dramatic an external manifestation of an internal shift as Patton Oswalt donning the face paint of the hated Philadelphia Eagles in Big Fan (which any fan of Eastbound & Down should check out, incidentally, as should everyone else).
Eastbound & Down open with Powers in the throes of a deep, dark depression. He’s reinvented himself as a cockfighting kingpin and traded in Stevie for a pair of sidekicks, each of whom leaves much to be desired. There’s a slow, semi-verbal older man Kenny dubs “Mice and Men” and a jittery, profane little person who, it turns out, has no interest in continuing to be his sidekick.
Powers is reduced to passing off a donkey as a zebra in a sad attempt to glean some cash from gullible tourists but when his prize cock is killed in battle and his partners in petty crime abandon him, Kenny is forced to confront himself, his past and his true identity as Kenny fucking Powers, not a meek shell of a man.
Kenny seems to have picked up a quasi-love interest this season as well in the form of a sexy singer, though it’s probably not a promising sign that the only part of that tepid subplot that made any kind of an impression was a long, slow, lingering, rapturous shot of Ana de la Reguera’s ass shaking hypnotically. To be fair, though, de la Reguera has an amazing ass that looks primed to take the place of Katy Mixon’s breasts as the focus of fan lust.
You can’t keep a good man down, however, so the episode ends with a return. As in the first season, Powers finds himself attracted to the comfort and security of a stable family and finds his way back to baseball, the source of his greatest pride and shame. Eastbound & Down closes with Kenny delivering an epic speech to a Mexican baseball team he’s graciously decided to bless with fading talent so that he can prove to the world that he is, in his memorable words, “the Christ figure (people) perceive me to be.”
There’s a major change in latitude but none in attitude. Writer-director Jody Hill loves him some slow-motion montages set to 1970s cock rock. “Chapter 7” is funny and wild and loose but with an undercurrent of real sadness. By the end of the episode, Powers has some of his swagger back but he still carries with him the baggage of a lifetime full of phenomenal success and agonizing, very public failures. Eastbound & Down would be a great show if it only lasted six episodes but I, for one, couldn’t be more excited about having Kenny Powers back.
—“Fuck your donkey, bitch.”
—Deep Roy, the little person actor who plays Kenny’s sidekick, was also all the Oompah Loompas in Willie Wonka.
—“I transcend race, hombre.” That may be my favorite line in the whole show, if not the season as a whole.
—I love Kenny’s old ass tape recorder. Do you young people even remember tape recorders? They were bulky and impractical and awesome.
—“Your wife’s titty does look beautiful though.”
—“And in addition to all that other stuff, Kenny Powers still does not like children.”