After successive appearances in comedies like Drillbit Taylor, Tropic Thunder, and Pineapple Express, Danny McBride stars in a new HBO series as essentially the same character he always plays: a mulleted loser with illusions of grandeur. As any fan of Will Ferrell (who is a producer on this series and has a cameo) can attest, it’s not that one-note actors aren’t fun to watch, it’s just a question of longevity.
McBride stars as Kenny Powers, a once-great relief pitcher who throws it all away for ego, insisting he’s better than any of the teams on which he plays (this might remind Red Sox fans of a few former players). As he says when he quits his team: “I’m sick and tired of carrying all the weight. The coaches and the owners not giving me the shit I need to win. Atlanta, you’re fucking out.” With no prospects left, Powers returns to his North Carolina hometown to be the gym teacher at his old middle school and reunites with his former sweetheart April (played by Jennifer Tilly clone Katy Mixon), who happens to be engaged to the school principal. Continuing on the path of predictable plotlines, Powers moves in with his married brother Dustin (John Hawkes), leading to several scenes involving the disgraced pitcher cursing in front of three small children. These outrageous scenes have their moments, but the shocks run out soon enough and that’s what this series never realizes.
Eastbound nourishes itself on how many surprising gags it can throw at viewers believing they won’t catch on to the formula. The series even explores literal toilet humor by including a scene in which Powers casually walks into the bathroom while his brother is sitting on the john and has an entire conversation with him. The amps on these little jolts grow less and less severe as the show goes on, making the writing as monosyllabic as the performances. The New Yorker‘s Nancy Franklin attempted to compare Powers to David Brent of the U.K. version of The Office, but while there are some superficial similarities, the crucial difference here is that Powers has so few redeeming qualities, and there’s no interest in whether or not he gets his life back on track. While Brent was ignorantly stupid, Powers seems blatantly so.
Sadly, the supporting characters don’t add anything either; the writers of the show fail to develop anyone as interesting or as funny as the lead, which still isn’t saying much for McBride’s Powers. These characters merely exist to help set up Powers’s jokes. Moreover, when characters finally are developed further, the results feel forced because they come so far out of leftfield. It’s a relief HBO only ordered six episodes for the first season, as there isn’t much here the writers seem willing or able to explore other than broad plot and humor. One could hold out hope for a changeup in the second season, but, like mullets making a comeback, the chances are slim.
In typical HBO fashion, we get a very clear image from the high-definition source. No complaints in the audio department either.
HBO makes good with the bonus features. There are select episode audio commentaries with David Gordon Green, Jody L. Hill, and Danny McBride on both discs. But disc two holds the bulk of the bonus material real estate. There we find a promotional making-of featurette, the complete version of "The Best of Kenny Powers" video that was featured in the series, a couple of car ads starring Will Ferrell as Ashley Schaeffer, 10 minutes' worth of deleted scenes, and an even longer blooper reel. Rounding out the extras is what appears to be an unused improvised scene from the fourth episode (there is no commentary or text explaining the scene).
Eastbound & Down is myopic, wasting its focus on shortsighted laughs rather than giving us something we have not seen before.