There are a few shows on television that exist on the line between entertainment and art. There are shows of a certain caliber that you’d see a college offer a class for in their communications program. I could take a class on Twin Peaks. I could take two classes on The Wire. New Thundercats is getting me into the old Thundercats, so yeah, I’d take a class on that, too. But my own fascination with Rankin and Bass aside, the master class that this review will extrapolate on is Eastbound & Down 201. It may look like an entertaining show about baseball and cussing, but it’s really a study on depravity, heart, and American cock fighting.
Season 1 of Eastbound & Down was a nonstop joy ride down the dirt roads of American bravado. Season 2 goes further down that road and doesn’t stop until it hits Mexico. We rejoin Kenny as “Steve,” the corn-rowed cock fighter who watches ball games from afar to feed but not satiate the hunger of the 101mph pitcher within. Before long, the manager of the team recognizes Kenny and urges him to unleash his talents upon the world of Mexican baseball. Aiding him in this decision is the promised fanfare provided by the team’s owner, Sebastian Cisneros, who is played by an unrecognizable Michael Peña. He would steal the show if not for the fact that the entire ensemble is so strong that no one is getting away with anything of the sort. But for those keeping score, “Steve” is now Kenny again. So the question of “who is Kenny?” is not only relevant, it’s underlined.
The season starts with Aaron, fearlessly played by Deep Roy, who is much more vocal than he was in J.J.’s Star Trek. He plays the loud and aggressive Powers, whose big talk is accentuated by his small stature. Aaron represents the voice. The Mouth of Sauron. He’s complimented by a chunk of man named Hector who is brute force behind Aaron. To continue the Lord of the Rings analogy, he’s the cave troll -- but the later ones who seem to be easier to take down than the one in Fellowship. Next, is Sebastion, the owner of the baseball team. He represents the blind Kenny. He doesn’t see his own faults, so rather than shy away from his repulsive tendencies, he instead brags about them. Kenny sees himself in Sebastion to a point. This reaches its limit when Sebastian encroaches on Kenny’s relationship with Vida, the Mexican replacement of Kenny’s true love from season 1, April Buchanon. For the sake of academia I must mention that, in the words of the show, Kenny is a tit man (April), but down in Mexico he has lost himself and is contemplating being an ass man (Vida). I never heard those words before, but they do paint an interesting image of American and Mexico.
I’ll limit myself to a few more Kennys, and for the sake of time, I’ll do it quickly. There is Catuey (a wonderfully understated Efren Ramirez), and he is Kenny’s heart -- the Kenny who believes in family. To discuss the other two would be a spoiler, so I will speak generally and without details. Most importantly there is Eduardo Sanchez, who is Mirror Kenny. There is a certain clarity to Eduardo that makes seeing the real Kenny possible for arguably the first time. Look and you will see how their similarities amplify the essence of Kenny. Then there is Casper, who is Kenny’s Deathly Hallows Kings Crossing Voldemort.
The final Kenny is that of his audience, personified by Stevie. As you recall, this is the root of the alias Kenny Powers uses when he moves to Mexico. Though his reasons for picking this name is directly extrapolated on in the show, for the purposes of this DVD review (yes, it’s still a review), I will make the argument that this is the name of the only character who sees Kenny Powers as Kenny Powers sees himself: a hero in his own epic tale. In fact, there are many other audience characters, but that gets way too complicated.
None of this would even be worth mentioning if the show was not extraordinary. It’s crass humor mixed with complicated emotions and multidimensional characters, many of which have their own arcs, and all within the space of seven half-hour episodes. It’s truly a triumph. On top of it all, the visuals are stunning and the sound design and music choices are so right on that it can at times just make you giddy. The close of the season is reminiscent of The Graduate and, simply put, it’s pitch perfect. Pun acknowledged. In the end, Eastbound & Down accomplishes a feat that few other series can pull off -- it could exist as something self-contained, but you will want to know where it’s headed next.
Although it has one nice surprise when you lift the outer sleeve, the season is divided into two discs in an otherwise average package. The DVD looks and sounds great, but I think I’ve become a Blu-ray snob and anything else just comes off short of its potential where presentation is concerned. While I’m citing negative things, the menus leave something to be desired, but all these things are superficial. The content, on the other hand, is quite nice. The features include “Invitation to the Set,” which is basically a brief profile that puts a face to the people who made the show. “Big Red Cockfighting” is a small feature that assures you that no animals were hurt in the making of the film. The deleted scenes and outtakes shine and accomplish what you’d want from these features: entertaining scenes played out in full and goofs that are actually fun to watch. The most impressive features on the discs are the audio commentaries that are included on five of the seven episodes. With a diverse selection of commentators, they’re informative and funny. Where “Invitation to the Set” introduces you to the show’s creators, the commentaries are the party. It’s not a wild party, it’s more of a mingle, but after a day of classes on Eastbound & Down, it’s nice to get a drink with the professor.
Length: 180 min.
Rated: Not rated
Distributor: HBO Studios
Release Date: 8/02/11
Starring: Danny McBride, Katy Mixon, John Hawkes, Andrew Daly
Directed by: Jody Hill, David Gordon Green,
Produced by: Will Ferrell, Chris Henchy, Jody Hill, Stephanie Laing, Danny McBride, Adam McKay
Written by: Shawn D. Harwell, Jody Hill, Danny McBride
Visit the Eastbound & Down Official Website