Some things never change. The conclusion of Eastbound & Down’s standout second season saw Danny McBride’s relentlessly contemptible, foulmouthed closing pitcher seemingly turning a new page hand in hand with a very pregnant April (Katy Mixon), the mother of his forthcoming son, walking steadily toward a future where the two could put aside the tempestuousness of their relationship and begin raising a child. It was a tender, uncharacteristically classy way to end the bizarre Mexico-centered section of Kenny Power’s rise-and-fall-and-fall-again parable. Turn the clock ahead one year and Kenny’s apparently a man completely and utterly unaltered by the majority of the events that transpired south of the border. In fact, as this third round of shenanigans kicks off, he seems like even more of an asshole than ever. It would have been foolish to believe that Kenny “Fucking” Powers could maintain sentimentality, but if he did, Eastbound & Down would no longer be itself. This is a dirty, unscrupulous series that prides itself on near-poetical streams of obscenity-heavy insults and gross-out gags, though it consistently amazes with how it manages to get away with peppering in key instances of emotional character growth, as well as striking a balance between obnoxious and charming.
In the first moments of the season opener, “Chapter 14,” a tank-topped, curly mullet-rocking Kenny struts down the Myrtle Beach shoreline with his bodyboard, branded with the almighty cannabis leaf, commenting on the “base tans” of black folks and berating young surfers. (When one of them accidentally cuts him off on a pint-sized swell, he takes out a buck knife and comically saws the rider’s rubbery leg strap in half.) No longer is Kenny on a mission of soul-searching, finding his birth father, and the like. This is a Kenny Powers who wants nothing else but to cruise around town on his ocean-blue Can-Am Spyder, to be praised for his pitching talents, to screw dimwitted college girls, and to party with his Myrtle Beach Mermen catcher and new BFF Shane (Jason Sudeikis, sporting a goatee, a laughable Southern accent, and driving a decked-out, obviously compensating truck that makes Kill Bill Vol. 1’s Pussy Wagon seem civilized by comparison).
A brief stop in Kenny’s hometown of Shelby to drop in on son Toby’s first birthday celebration is as uncomfortable a display of misguided intentions as the show has ever depicted. Even before getting piss-drunk, Kenny verbally abuses April, his brother (John Hawkes), and his sister-in-law (Jennifer Irwin), among others. Kenny’s ignorance is further demonstrated when he inappropriately gifts Toby with a PlayStation 3: “It does Blu-rays, which are high-definition. Better for his eyes to take upon the movies.” Despite the casual Kenny-is-back shortcomings of the episode, Eastbound & Down’s final inning truly comes into its own when April runs off, leaving Toby in the care of a gloriously inept Kenny. Stuffing the toddler in a backpack, Kenny returns to his stomping ground for clues to April’s whereabouts, revisiting people like Andrew Daly’s Terrence Cutler, who’s moved on with his life since Kenny’s departure. Even as the world around him shifts, Kenny remains a constant thorn in everyone’s side, unaffected by happenings that would normally be cause for self-examination.
While coming to terms with fatherhood is season three’s main focus, the bonds of friendship are a secondary theme on which Eastbound & Down continues to mold its antihero’s soft spots. “Chapter 15” is perhaps the strongest example of this, marking the welcome reappearance of Kenny’s compliant sidekick, Stevie (Steve Little), and Stevie’s obedient Mexican wife, Maria (Elizabeth De Razzo). Kenny puts aside his vital quest to find an absconded April in order to save Stevie from the clutches of one of his worst enemies, and the result is a frenzied, fast-paced search-and-rescue mission that reintroduces Will Ferrell’s nefarious Ashley Schaeffer (now in charge of a lowly Kia dealership) in a string of unspeakable acts that include forced Kabuki-theater erotica, a hefty helping of racism, and sudden death by cannonball fire. Director David Gordon Green turns in his best effort since 2008’s Pineapple Express, and while his direction is typically more laidback than fellow episode helmer Jody Hill’s, his work here—while still a far cry from something like George Washington or even Undertow—rivals the masterful marijuana-warehouse-explosion grand finale that caps Dale and Saul’s weed-fueled adventure.
Regrettably, there’s about as much originality in Eastbound & Down’s third season as there is triteness. In a Rocky IV-style maneuver, Kenny is abruptly faced with a Russian pitching rival named Ivan Dochenko (Ike Barinholtz) who threatens to dethrone him as the Mermen’s star prospect. Matthew McConaughey’s pro scout Roy McDaniel enlists Kenny to mentor Ivan, and the resulting scenes, which could have been a chance for McBride and Barinholtz to bounce some signature ad-libbing off each other, feel overly scripted, predictable, and ultimately boring (Kenny claims to be like Yoda, but Ivan has never even heard of Star Wars). At eight episodes, season three is Eastbound & Down’s lengthiest to date; this is either a blessing or a curse, as it gives the series ample room to thoroughly round out its triple-arc structure, yet simultaneously creates long stretches of downtime where nothing of much interest takes place. The Dochenko subplot unfortunately falls into the latter category.
Regardless of its shortcomings, Eastbound & Down can’t be faulted for following through on its primary vision. Each of the show’s three seasons plays out like a film, each delving deeper into the cracked mythology of Kenny Powers. If last season was The Empire Strikes Back, though, season three is slightly more Revenge of the Sith than Return of the Jedi.