Back on the Mound

In its second season, HBO’s sitcom Eastbound & Down went darker, dirtier, and even funnier.
By John Semley

With Eastbound & Down, writer/producer/director Jody Hill and star Danny McBride took the sitcom into new and darkly funny waters, with a true asshole of a leading man: Kenny Powers, a washed-up Major League pitcher. Season one established the show’s backdrop of small-town North Carolina, and enhanced Powers’s bad-boy antics with an exceptionally strong ensemble cast. Then, for season two, Hill ditched it all. He transplanted Powers to Mexico, set him up as a coke-snorting cockfighter, and wrote off most of the secondary players, with the notable exception of the hilarious Steve Little as Kenny’s sycophantic sidekick, Stevie. It was a bold move, especially given TV’s fondness for sameness.

“I wouldn’t say we were worried,” says Hill of the show’s dramatic left turn. “But we did wonder if it would work. But from the show’s conception, we wanted to do everything we could to push the idea of what a TV show can do.” Hill and McBride had always considered the driving force character, not situation, and season two brought Powers to new lows: more booze, more drugs, more prostitutes, and more racism. And a dwarf. It’s meaner and nastier than the first season, since it’s lost many of the more likable supporting characters.

“We don’t really set out to be dark for no reason,” says Hill. “I think that happens because we structure our show the way you would structure a drama. Then we write the scenes funny.” The comedy may be darker, but we love the new cast members—including Don Johnson, who steals every scene he’s afforded as Kenny’s piece-of-shit father—the four-letterspiced melodrama, and Kenny’s extended struggle between being a breast man or an ass man. (It’s like being a Beatles or a Rolling Stones fan—you can like both, but ultimately you have to pick an allegiance.)

Season two included Powers once again having a shot at a big-time baseball career, which his self-destructive persona fucked up—of course. “I’m not sure where the idea to make Kenny Powers a baseball player came from,” says Hill. “Neither one of us knows anything about sports. In hindsight, it would have made more sense to make him a rock star.”

Bonus features on the season-two DVDs include audio commentary tracks and the featurettes “Invitation to the Set,” “Little Red Rooster,” and “Deep Thoughts With Kenny Powers.”
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