Take a bow Kenny Powers, you have earned it yet baby. On Sunday night, the HBO series Eastbound & Down takes a final bow for the second time after a surprise renewal for a 4th season. Eastbound was a show I loved in the first season, lost interest in during the second, gave up on during the third and watched the first episode of fourth simply because it was on. Little did I see coming what Danny McBride and co-creators Jody Hill and Ben Best had in store. If Season #4 was a standalone series, Eastbound would go down as one of the best shows in the history of the medium.
The reason Seasons #1 and #4 clicked was the setting: suburban North Carolina. Only here does Powers’ bull in a china shop schtick work. Seasons #2 and #3 sent Kenny’s bull out to pasture (a road trip that wound up in Mexico). No china to break. No conflict. No series.
Season #4 brings us full circle — a few years later. After faking his own death, Kenny has convinced the love of his life, April Buchanon (Katy Mixon) to marry him. He’s now a kept man raising two toddlers in suburbia while his wife brings home the real bacon. He works in a shitty rental car job, trading in pinstripes for a blousey polo shirt and pleated Dockers. Fate intervenes as he gets a second shot at fame — not on the mound, but as a panelist on a profane regional cable sports chat show — SPORTS SESH! Here Kenny faces his first truly worthy adversary, Guy Young, played by Ken Marino, the powerhouse improv comedy slugger who steals every scene he’s in (Wanderlust, Party Down, Role Models, Veronica Mars, and dozens more).
Every episode this season was written, directed and acted with the knuckle-whitening, gut wrenching precision we enjoyed throughout Breaking Bad. What will Powers fuck up first: His marriage? His career? The entire city of Charlotte? Powers versus Buchanon versus Young is the best cinematic showdown TV has seen since Heisenberg v. Skyler v. Gus then Aryan Nation. The Powers/Young hoverpack showdown on the lake could even rival Luke Skywalker’s last battle with his father.
Applause for the rest of the team: The breathtaking Katy Mixon, who is tragically underutilized on Mike & Molly, gives the show its heart and moral center. It’s hard to believe anyone could love Powers, but through her, we do too. Buddy Steve (Steve Little) escalates his buffoonery to Jerry Lewis-levels of greatness and John Hawkes (spellbinding in The Sessions) as Powers’ brother keeps the series from becoming a cartoon. Best of all, Elizabeth de Razzo, as Steve’s wife Maria, turns a formerly wordless, one-note, bit part into a sexy, fearless, tour de force. If only Marilyn Manson (sans makeup) had a bigger part.
It would be great if the gang reunites for Season 5 down the road. No rush. I need a few years to recover from this season’s awkward, hysterical, compelling and triumphant blaze of mother fucking glory.