As a film critic, part of me thinks the entire world stops for The Oscars, that the sum of the entertainment industry takes a break so that we can all bask in the self-love of pampered millionaires patting each other on the back over the two percent of Hollywood product that isn’t transparently awful and mercenary.
That obviously isn’t the case. While much of the TV audience endured endless montages and interminable musical numbers NBC was treating audiences to 100 Most Outrageous Moments 2. A preferable alternative could be found on HBO. I found tonight’s bracingly nasty second installment of Eastbound & Down to be a refreshing antidote to the soul-crushing pompousness of the Oscars though at times it felt a little too dark even for me.
Eastbound & Down’s pilotimmersed audiences in the sad sack existence of an ex major league superstar (co-writer/Executive Producer/co-creator Danny McBride) trying to pick up the pieces as a small town gym teacher after destroying his career and personal life with drugs, hubris and all-around bad behavior. Danny R. McBride’s mullet-sporting bad seed still labors under the delusion that his cursed existence as an impoverished fuck-up is but a way station on the road back to the majors when it’s clear he’s not going anywhere.
In tonight’s episode McBride sees an opportunity to score some quick cash and bask in the spotlight of his fading celebrity when he agrees to a personal appearance at an upscale car dealership run by prominent McBride booster (and Down Executive Producer) Will Ferrell.
Ferrell gets a vicarious buzz from mixing with an ex-superstar. McBride is psyched about playing the big shot but the sad realities of his life become agonizingly apparent when Ferrell offers him two hundred dollars instead of the two thousand dollars he requests (plus a blow job), then has him put on a tacky car dealership polo shirt.
McBride has lost his fastball and with it his baseball mojo. His fastball has gone from a scorcher to a lukewarm mediocrity so when a creepy fan asks McBride to throw him a heater down the middle he refuses and Ferrell quickly turns on him. Like many comedies that derive their humor from awkwardness and uncomfortable silences Eastbound & Down walks a fine line between painfully, excruciatingly funny and just plain pathetic.
The car dealership scenes crossed that line repeatedly. The psychodrama of a deluded and arrogant man being humiliated by people he thought would worship him was almost too dark to be funny. Things didn’t improve for McBride after he fled the car dealership in disgrace after punching a fan in the face, did some Ecstasy and once again made a play for Katy Mixon, his geeky Principal’s buxom girlfriend.
Tonight’s episode started off fairly dark, with McBride trying to score a blowjob from a barroom skank without contracting a venereal disease, got darker, then ended on an almost unbearably bleak note, with a high, humiliated and revenge-hungry McBride getting into a car with a geeky fellow teacher who seems to nurse a huge gay crush on him so he can return to the dealership and throw a brick through its window.
If the funny/dark ratio felt a little off tonight it still delivered some big laughs, from McBride asking a down-and-out buddy with mysterious silver paint on his face (huffing?) if he’d just blown Robocop to the tweaked-out mating dance McBride performed at the school dance. Down derived clammy pathos out of McBride’s speech to Mixon about how the only thing that has consistently brought him joy in his life was the mental image of her big tits. In McBride’s warped, solipsistic mind he was being romantic; he seemed confused that she didn’t view it that way.
Before the personal appearance plot devolved into a gauntlet of humiliation Ferrell’s guest appearance was funny as well. Ferrell threw himself into playing an unrepentant, creepily coiffed sleazebag who crows that a female employee is willing to suck cock for the sake of a sale while a male employee is all too willing to finger female customers “with his penis”.
McBride has talked about how Eastbound & Down’s six episodes fit together like a really long movie. Accordingly, tonight’s show picked up exactly where the pilot left off and ended on a cliffhanger. McBride and director David Gordon Green, who is also a consulting producer, went to some really dark places tonight. It reminded me a little of The Office at its grimmest though The Office generally gives Michael Scott a minor moral victory as compensation for his endless humiliation. Down seems unwilling to make that kind of concession. I respect its utter lack of sentimentality though a few more laughs in the next episode certainly wouldn’t hurt.
—I really like John Hawkes as McBride’s brother and found myself missing his wife. She was a good foil for McBride and his unrelenting egotism.
—I also like that McBride still listens to his own foul-mouthed, misanthropic inspirational tapes. That is a running joke that has yet to wear out its welcome
—In the real world it seems like a McBride-like figure would be able to make serious money at baseball card shows and get a book deal out of his travails. He’s seemingly just a manager away from making serious scrilla exploiting his former fame.
—"If you won't listen to my words then listen to my dancing feet"
—Apparently the ratings weren't stellar for the premiere and the reviews were profoundly mixed. I'm not terribly surprised. A drugged-up asshole with a mullet swearing at children is probably always going to be a hard sell.