Eastbound & Down Review: "Chapter 14" (Episode 3.01)
Kenny “La Flama Blanca” Powers returns in the third season premiere.
Yesterday I explained why everybody should be watching Eastbound & Down. Tonight’s season three premiere is a strong start to what promises to be a pivotal season in the personal development of eternal jackass Kenny Powers (Danny McBride). After reconnecting with his absent father (Don Johnson) in Mexico last season, Kenny now has to confront his own paternal obligations while trying to make another major league comeback. But don’t be afraid of Three Men and a Baby-style, “kids spray the darnedest pee” humor; the show’s pitch-black focus remains on the irredeemable Kenny.
In season three the action relocates to Myrtle Beach, the South Carolina town that many publications writing about Eastbound have mistakenly called the “redneck riviera”. (That’s PCB. We expect better of you, Salon.) Kenny’s abandoned April (Katy Mixon) and their son Toby to pitch for one of Texas’s minor league affiliates. When he’s not nailing down wins for the Myrtle Beach Mermen Kenny’s ruling the Myrtle strip on his three-wheeler with his best friend and catcher Shane (Jason Sudeikis), banging college girls in the dunes and riding the waves on a boogie board decked out with the rebel flag and a potleaf. Obviously KP found that thing at Wings.
Kenny’s also found a perfect best friend in Shane, who’s roughly as awful and oblivious as KP himself. He’s not a subservient yes-man like Stevie Janowski (Steve Little), and regularly squabbles with Kenny over which one is Maverick in their Top Gun fantasies. Shane actually might be too similar to Kenny, as at first Sudeikis seems to be impersonating McBride. It’s initially grating, but Sudeikis eventually tones it down.
In these Myrtle Beach vignettes Toby doesn’t even seem like an afterthought in Kenny’s life. The boy simply doesn’t exist to his father. So it’s surprising when Kenny returns to Shelby, North Carolina, for Toby’s first birthday party. He shows up hours late to the party and gets high and swigs whiskey from the bottle throughout. He doesn’t pay child support or help out in any way whatsoever. He’s as awful of a father as you’d expect.
A number of familiar faces pop up at the party, including Kenny’s brother Dustin (John Hawkes) and his family and April’s boss Jamie (Jerry Minor). Jamie tells Kenny that April is seriously struggling to raise Toby alone. When April later asks Dustin’s wife Cassie (Jennifer Irwin) if she ever regrets becoming a mother, it’s clear where the episode is headed.
Some point later April and Toby surprisingly show up at Kenny’s house in Myrtle. April and Kenny embark on a night of debauchery as debased and hilarious as anything in the show’s history. Seeing the normally pulled-together April fully embrace the chaos of Kenny Powers gives us our most solid glimpse yet at who April used to be and how she could love such a flawed man. From a brawl at a putt-putt course to furious fits of coke-snorting at a carnival midway, April sinks deep into Kenny’s amoral and irresponsible world. At first we think Kenny’s exploiting the confusion and desperation that April is obviously dealing with, but April’s just letting Kenny have one last night of blissful hedonism before doing what she came to Myrtle for: leaving Toby with his father and disappearing.
Eastbound has pulled this trick every season, making us think that it might be possible for Kenny to grow up and stop being such a horrible human being. That would undermine the entire point of the show, but in its last season, with the health and welfare of a baby on the line, perhaps it’s time Kenny embraces at least a small degree of responsibility. Right now though that seems as long a shot as Kenny ever actually returning to the majors.