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The Game Effect Editorial

Eastbound & Down Season Three Impressions

Season Three of Eastbound & Down gets off to a rocky start...

By Kaili Markley on 2/27/2012
After 15 long months Kenny "%*@&ing" Powers is back. In the third season of HBO's beloved oddball comedy series Kenny has returned from Mexico and is living in Myrtle Beach, enjoying celebrity once more pitching for the minor league team, the Myrtle Beach Merman. Season Three has been confirmed to be the series' final season, and will feature appearances by Jason Sudeikis, Will Ferrell, Matthew McConaughey, and Ike Barinholtz, as well as the return of Katy Mixon, Steve Little, and Lisa De Razzo.

In the season premiere Kenny is on top of the world: a dumb but lusty college girlfriend, a strong throwing arm, a new best friend named Shane Dog (Jason Sudeikis), who is essentially a good-looking version of Powers himself, and enjoying catching sweet waves every day on his boogie board and working on his "base tan". But after a one-night reunion with April -- where they catch a "balls-rockin" sunset, get into a fistfight with a family of rednecks at a mini-golf course, and Kenny "sets her %*@& free" -- April disappears, leaving Kenny to care for their son Toby alone, and freewheeling awesomeness of Kenny's life is jeopardized.

One of the things that has always made Eastbound & Down work -- what has made it more than just low-brow, I-can't-believe-he -just-said-that comedy -- is the subtext of tragedy. Beneath all of Kenny Powers' uncouth swagger is the air of a man-defeated; the raunchiness and bravado sometimes an all too apparent way of distancing himself from others before they have the chance to reject him. Add to that the self-delusion of a man past his prime, extreme selfishness, and substance abuse, and we have the portrait of a person with some serious emotional and psychological issues. (Ethan Anderton of Collider does an excellent analysis of the comedy-tragedy balance in Eastbound &  Down.)

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Luckily, the writing is funny enough to balance the subtext, and Danny McBride's performance salvages the character from being too sympathetic, or at all sentimental. I think that this realization was really brought home for me back in "Chapter 4" -- that strange juxtaposition of Stuart A. Staples' "Somerset House" playing as he destroys his brothers living room after being humiliated at April's party -- and it is the nuances of this character (and indeed, this series) so one-dimensional and crude at first glance that has kept the show interesting.
There is perhaps more gravity in what I've seen of Season Three (I was able to preview the first three episodes) than in previous seasons, largely due to the entrance of baby Toby, and Kenny starting out in a place of relative success that you know can only go downhill. Don't get me wrong: there are still plenty of laughs, and all of the offensive humor we have come to expect from E&D has remained in tact. Yet Season Three highlights Powers' ineptitude, and his awareness of that inadequacy, in a more unflinching way than previous seasons. I won't spoil it for you, but the final scene of next week's "Chapter 16" is surprisingly dark.

Unfortunately, the first three episodes of this new season also forecast a startling inconsistency in tone. Eastbound & Down has never been a show to shrink from doing the unexpected... or the offensive. And there have often been scenes or even whole episodes that have felt too fantastic to believe, but, they were always grounded by the consistency of Kenny Powers' character (strange parody that it is), and even if we were muttering WTF the entire episode, we were at least giggling while saying it.

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However, anyone who saw last night's episode, the second half of which was so outrageously cartoonish and felt like Will Ferrell showboating more than anything else, was indeed probably asking what the hell was going on, and not laughing much. Furthermore, as Nathan Rabin of AV Club aptly points out, it felt more like The Will Ferrell Show with a Special Appearance by Danny McBride than an episode of E&D, so we didn't even have Kenny to root the last half of the episode. Personally, I was almost relieved it was over, so outrageous was the whole thing, and so decidedly not funny.

The second episode of this season definitely seems out of place, and I am hoping that it's just a fluke. However, it does raise some concern heading into the rest of the season, especially since this is to be E&D's final one. Perhaps the absurdity of "Chapter 15" is an attempt to balance some of the gravitas to come in the next episode (and maybe the rest of the season). If the show's focus can remain where it belongs -- squarely on Kenny Powers -- I trust that E&D's last hurrah will be worth watching. Plus, with so many potential crises arising -- April's disappearance, Stevie and Kenny's cohabitation, Ivan's threatening usurpation -- I can't wait to see what happens next.
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MikeDeas879 on March 25, 2012
Watched season one in its entirety and just could not care less about this show. Someone I work with keeps talking about how he loves the show but it peaked in season one. If that was the peak, count me out.
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