sat 04/04/2020

Eastbound & Down, FX | reviews, news & interviews

Eastbound & Down, FX

Eastbound & Down, FX

Danny McBride - the new Jack Black?

Is HBO trying to tell us something? Is the once peerless cable channel signalling a midlife crisis? I only ask because Hung, the HBO comedy-drama that starts on More4 in mid-October, features a marginalised middle-aged basketball coach who turns to prostitution, while Eastbound & Down is about a Major League baseball pitcher who, “several shitty years later”, finds himself teaching PE back at his hometown high school.

Is HBO trying to tell us something? Is the once peerless cable channel signalling a midlife crisis? I only ask because Hung, the HBO comedy-drama that starts on More4 in mid-October, features a marginalised middle-aged basketball coach who turns to prostitution, while Eastbound & Down is about a Major League baseball pitcher who, “several shitty years later”, finds himself teaching PE back at his hometown high school. Crisis or not, both shows are well worth checking out, starting last night with the Will Ferrell-produced Eastbound & Down - a vehicle for the very funny Danny McBride.

Not having caught his supporting roles in the movies Drillbit Taylor and Tropic Thunder, McBride is new to me – apparently the latest recruit to the Ferrell, Apatow and Stiller school of jackass comedy, whose most famous three amigos are Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Jack Black, but also now including Steve Carell and Seth Rogan.  McBride’s mullet-sporting screen persona is a sort of redneck Ron Burgundy on steroids - and his ex-pro baseball pitcher on the skids, Kenny Powers, is not the sort of man to accept his reduced station gracefully. Instead he broods in his pick-up truck listening to his self-penned motivational tape, “You’re Fuckin’ Out, I’m Fuckin’ In” and wondering why “God has taken a dump on my face”.

Profane and despicable, with a self-belief as bloated as his Ray Winstone physique, there’s also a wry, experience-hardened cynicism to McBride

Not someone to have hanging round the house then, although his brother and deeply Christian sister-in-law unwisely offer sanctuary – only for Kenny to borrow their cell phone in order to haggle with hookers (“So let’s get this straight; I’m going to pay for a blow job and pay for a goddamned hotel room too?”). He also terrorises their children – in fact generally has little sensitivity regarding young minds. “Anybody wants to pick on anybody in class, pick on him because I ain’t watching”, he instructs his PE pupils after one of the unfortunate student says that his father reckoned Powers ruined the sport of baseball.

Profane and despicable, with a self-belief as bloated as his Ray Winstone physique, there’s also a wry, experience-hardened cynicism to McBride that reminded me of Roseanne when she was Roseanne Barr and queen of the blue-collar sitcom. And you can detect something admirable beyond the buffoonery, the sense that Kenny might be full of bull, but he might also have some real balls. It’s not exactly that you’re rooting for him (he wouldn’t care anyway), but his heroic bombast is sneakily endearing.

A powerhouse comedy performance like this requires McBride to be surrounded by a lot of straight guys and gals – or at least some quieter comic turns. Katy Mixon, as Kenny’s childhood sweetheart April (and the only member of staff without any hero-worshipping illusions about the ex-baseball pro), says it all with her increasingly desperate facial expressions as Kenny tries to steal her in front of the nose of her sexless fiancé, the school principal (MADtv veteran Andrew Daly).

Eastbound & Down, as you’d expect from a show whose title pays homage to the theme song from the 1977 Burt Reynolds trucking comedy Smokey and the Bandit, feels down and dirty and grassroots (although a cameo by Will Ferrell later in the series may spoil that impression). They may be broadly drawn, but the characters aren’t stereotypes. In fact Kenny Powers seems to have been born as perfectly formed as David Brent, and I suspect he will prove (this series being only six episodes long - another one on the way) just as short-lived. Enjoy him while you can and, if like me, you had never heard of McBride, don’t worry – I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

  • Eastbound & Down episode 2 is on FX, 8 October at 10pm. Episode one repeats on FX on 3 October at 3.20am
They may be broadly drawn, but the characters aren’t stereotypes

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